Alectelo is no different, and the pearl of the harbor-gate was cracked and flaking when I ran my hand up it, and its shine had long since worn away.“It needs repairs,” said Zorione, just behind my shoulder.
“It needs money,” I said.“She won’t give it,” Zorione said.I said nothing.
After a moment she said, “Of course—it’s not hers,” and subsided.“It wouldn’t matter, anyway,” I said, and let my hand fall.“How long until the ship?” I said.
When the smuggler appeared through the drifting grey particulates a moment later, shaven-headed and crooked-toothed and grinning, Zorione jumped.“I know who you are,” she said in Szayeti-accented Sintian?
Her eyes took me in— cotton dress, dust-grey sandals, bare face, bare arms—before they flicked to Zorione, behind me.
“One of them,” I said.“By nightfall, madam,” Zorione said, looking deeply uncomfortable.
If I had had choice in who to play the role of the backer, I would not have chosen Zorione, who as long as I had known her had despised deception almost as fiercely as rule-breaking, and rule-breaking like blasphemy.
“And how long after will the pearls be sent to the satellite?” she said?I flicked my eyes to Zorione, who cleared her throat.“A week?” said the smuggler.
“You know,” I said hastily, “you’re very right—speed is of the essence.“Time to go,” said the smuggler.We scrabbled ourselves up the ladder into the hole at the top of the ship as best we could: the smuggler first, then me, Zorione taking the rear with the handles of my bags clenched in her bony fingers.
I made to push past Zorione, but she caught my arm at the last moment, and stood on her tiptoes to whisper into my ear, “Madam, I’m afraid—”.“I know,” I said, “but we knew she would only be a step behind—we have to go,” but she shook her head frantically, leaned closer, and hissed:.My first, absurd impulse was to laugh, and I had to clap my hand over my mouth to stifle it.“It’ll take as long as it takes,” said the smuggler.“You’re in my way wherever you are,” she said, and shoved a lever forward, and beneath us the engines coughed irritably to life.“Simple part done,” said the smuggler.“That,” said the smuggler, pointing with grim satisfaction.“Wasn’t planning to,” said the smuggler.“Better,” said the smuggler.
In the back, I could hear Zorione yelp as the ship spun like a top, suddenly and violently.
The smuggler shoved a lever forward, yanked it to the left, and pushed three sliders on the control board up to their highest positions.“What’s that?” I said, anyway, and let the smuggler explain.
Flying with the smuggler was not unlike being a piece of soap dropped in the bath.
Certainly the smuggler did not seem to know.The smuggler smirked.
“Twenty minutes,” she said.“I try to,” I said, in the same language, and caught the flicker of her first true smile.
Fewer with the charisma and the money to handle the populace, and fewer still who have any head for politic, and only a sprinkling, only enough for me to count on the fingers of my good right hand, are that rarest of things: a damn fine pilot.“Let me at her,” said Ana, who had neither.
She was sprawled in a curved white chair at my right hand.“I want her pinned to a planet,” I said, “and coming out ground-fighting.
The hand of the Empire reaches far and wide, from old Cherekku’s stone mazes to the sulfide-storms of Madinabia, and I had not been to this arm of the galaxy since my childhood.
This was her corner of local space, and she knew it like the back of her hand.“Chase her,” I said, and shut my eyes as the great warship shuddered underneath me.
I thought of a rogue planet plowing through the orbit-path, until Captain Galvão Orcadan said behind me: “Szayet, sir.”?“She’ll need to make landfall, sir,” said Galvão, “or try to exit the atmosphere again, and we’re sure to see if she does.“I have no intention of letting every cynic in Ceiao watch me spend thirty days blockading the richest treasury in the Swordbelt Arm,” I said.
Still I watched, and still I waited, and when Galvão grew restless and said “Commander Ceirran, you said—” I held up a hand again.“I know,” I said.“Is it—” said Galvão.“It is,” I said.Ana said nothing“Fortune’s tits,” she said“Will I?” I said mildly, easing myself down across from her“She’ll raise an army,” said Ana, “and stretch out this war for another three months, and send half my men to the void, and they will rake you over the coals at home, and I’ll be stuck on the inside of a cruiser, poking at radar screens and driving you mad with complaining“Your grasp of foreign policy is remarkable,” I said“The girl?” said Ana“I met her father, once,” I said, “but never her.”“Well, I never met her either,” said Ana“I know,” I said, and picked up a tablet pen and rolled it over my fingers thoughtfully, knuckle to knuckle
“You think she hasn’t,” she said“I am not,” I said, “entirely sure that Quinha knows what she is managing.”“How old is she, fourteen?” said Ana, who knew very well Casimiro Caviro Faifisto’s daughters were only a few years younger than she
“Are you in debt, Anita?” I said“That’s a personal question,” said Ana, and when I looked at her, “Yes, and you know the amount to the centono.”“So is Szayet,” I said
“Quinha bought the bulk of them,” I said, “not long after we met.”“Then you will give up the prize,” she said“I am thinking,” I said, “about diplomacy
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