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Authors: D.T. LeClaire

Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Shadows In Still Water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shadows in Still Water

by

D.T. LeClaire

 

Copyright © 2016 by D.T. LeClaire

 

All rights reserved.

 

Cover and Book Design by D.T. LeClaire

 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

D.T. LeClaire

Visit my website at www.WolfMediaPlus.com/kindle

 

 

Prologue
Calcutta, India, 1756

 

Fort William, prized jewel of Britain’s East India Company, lay smoking in the still Calcutta midnight. Governor Drake had angered the Nawab, Siraj-ad-daula, with a number of offenses both real and imaginary. For three days, since Wednesday, June 15th, the Nawab and his forces had besieged the fort, repelled mainly by luck and the heroics of a handful of junior officers. It was beginning to crumble now, under the continuous onslaught.

It was on days like these that John Holwell, chief magistrate, wished he had never left his comfortable medical practice at Guy’s hospital in London. Wiping his face with a handkerchief already gray from smoke, he passed beneath the arcade formed by a series of arches along the east wall and onto the fort’s parade ground. The last two arches in the arcade had been walled in to form a small prison eighteen feet long by fourteen feet wide called the Black Hole for unruly soldiers to sleep off a drunk. Here Drake had imprisoned the powerful Hindu merchant, Omichand, who sometimes acted as intermediary between the Nawab and the British. That had been Drake’s first mistake.

Holwell had been assigned the task of trying to placate the man into writing a conciliatory letter to the Nawab for them. Holwell had talked himself hoarse to no avail in the stifling, foul little room while Omichand peered at him from his perch on the sleeping platform like an enormously fat vulture waiting for his dinner to die.

The air outside the Black Hole smelled little better. Every breath left the acrid taste of sulfur in his mouth. It was midnight but the Indians had abandoned their usual practice of stopping before sundown and were still haphazardly shelling the fort.

Holwell hurried across the huge parade ground, pushing his way through the more than 2000 native women and children who had sought refuge in the fort. They swarmed around him, crying with their palms held up to plead with him.

One wealthy family sat eating rice and lamb, oblivious of the dark, hungry eyes of the bony children who squatted nearby. Holwell’s own stomach rumbled. He had eaten only one hot meal and a handful of dry biscuits in the last few days. Swallowing hard, he turned his head.

Inside the governor’s mansion, Holwell threaded a path around the European women and children gathered in the grand ballroom. This group was quieter but the little white faces looked just as hungry. The humid air seemed to grow heavier by the minute with the perspiration of fear. He stopped to help button a shoe, smiled, patted a few heads. It was all he could offer.

Hearing the angry voices from inside the council chamber, Holwell drew in a breath then opened the door. George Minchin stood with his hand on his sword, his red tunic noticeably unsoiled, nostrils flared, dark head thrown back, arguing with the much shorter Charles Manningham. Minchin’s voice had risen to almost feminine pitch. Apparently, now they were down to arguing who would get what spoils.

Slipping into the room, Holwell wondered for the hundredth time how Minchin had made commander of the garrison. He had lost all control over his subordinates.

Governor Drake sat on a keg of gunpowder as if ready to defend it with every ounce of strength in his corpulent body, wiping his round face with his sleeve and making no effort to end the argument.

Holwell sat down beside the young clerk, Darton, who tried to take notes as fast as his hands could move. His paper had great splotches of ink from his haste in dipping into the inkwell.

Doomsday could come but the East India Company would have a proper record of it.

Drake waved his arms at last and raised his voice. “Enough gentlemen. We must think of the safety of our people first. Manningham, go make sure the women and children get safely aboard the Dodaldy.”

From his position, Holwell could see the triumphant look on Manningham’s ferret face. Manningham had spent his year of service to the Company in a constant state of dissipation, his capacity for drink exceeded only by his capacity for complaint. They would never get the young man back off the ship.

As Manningham scampered away, Minchin turned on Drake. He never had the chance to speak.

A great screech of air filled Holwell’s head. The resulting bang he felt more than heard and found himself on the floor with drops of limestone raining down around him. The Nawab’s cannonball put an effective end to the council.

Although unhurt, the others seemed to have lost their senses. They abandoned the chamber, becoming part of the melee outside.

The Hoogly River fronting Fort William’s west side proved to be their only strategic advantage. The European women and children quietly evacuated, half through the governor’s wharf, the other half through the back gate to the northwest. Quietly that is until a cry went up, reverberating across the water.

Pulling himself up on the wall above the governor’s wharf, Holwell strained to get a better look at the ship. It was lighter now and he could see a knot of women at the edge of the water. The young Indian girl, Mary Carey, who had married a British soldier only a month ago, stood in their midst, hers the one calm face. Lady Russell, like an angry bantam rooster stood in a protective stance beside the girl. It was not difficult to figure that Manningham had refused to allow Mary aboard.

Several men joined Holwell on the wall to watch. A grubby, sweating sergeant tore the cap off his head, swearing, and pointed a gun-powder stained finger toward the Dodaldy. The ship had raised anchor. Drake and Minchin were on the beach arguing with a sailor in a boat. With all his years of ingrained cynicism about human nature, Holwell still could not believe what he saw next. Drake and Minchin got into the boat and rowed out to the ship without a backward glance.

Feeling a tug on his sleeve, Holwell looked into the frowning face of the sergeant.

“What do we do now, sir?” the man asked.

“We negotiate.”

 

***

 

Holwell was never quite sure afterwards how it happened but the ensuing panic was calmed at last. The remaining Company officials elected him emergency commander. Knowing that they would have greater negotiating power if the Nawab thought they might last indefinitely, Holwell pushed his men, his powder and his own soul to hold out one more day.

At the last moment, the Dutch mercenaries betrayed them by opening the back gate. Within a few brave deaths, Fort William fell to Siraj-ad-daula.

That was around 10:00 on the morning of June 20th. Sometime around 8:00 that night a drunk soldier fired a shot at an Indian guard. One hundred and forty five men and the only woman left in the fort, little Mary Carey who had refused to be separated from her husband Peter, were herded into the Black Hole. The temperature was 100 degrees.

Holwell felt dread lapping over him, a tide of panic swelling behind him as he stepped over the threshold, the first one in. The air was as foul as it had been on his earlier visit to Omichand. The vulture was free now. He would not have to wait long for his feast.

The men cried, shouted, pushed and shoved for a space to breathe. Holwell swayed in twisted agony, crushed into his position by one of the two tiny windows. His own will to survive held him there despite the intense pressure. Within an hour, dead men stood among the living. The rising steam created a palpable stench so smothering, Holwell could turn his head from the window only a few seconds at a time. Still, he called out to the men trying to calm them, bring some order in that roasting sarcophagus.

More men died.

In the waning hours of the night, Holwell could no longer control the raging thirst that was burning the life from his body. Relinquishing his position, he forced his way to the sleeping platform.

His eyes met the dark stare of Mary Carey. She held her dead husband in her arms, her eyes dry. No drop of moisture remained in the room. Her fingers brushed Holwell’s then fell back limp to her side. Holwell laid down beside her and waited to die.

At last, by 6:00 the morning of June 21st, the desperate entreaties of the prisoners induced the guards to release them. Twenty three people including Holwell and Mary Carey came out alive from the Black Hole of Calcutta.

The outrage this tragedy ignited would change the East India Company’s course in India forever. It would lead to the creation of the largest empire the world had ever seen.

Years later, when John Holwell recalled the cowardice of Governor Drake and Captain Minchin, the horrors of the Black Hole, and all that the East India Company became afterwards, he would sometimes wonder, what if it had been planned that way?

 

Part One
Chapter One

Space Station Davis, Jidal IV, 2182

 

Space Station Davis glided softly in its geosynchronous orbit around the orange planet Jidal IV. Built in fits and starts by the Galactic Earth Medical Corporation, following the up and down cycles of corporate profits, the station had no aesthetic value beyond the pearly sheen of its outer kedellium plating. It looked as if a child of gigantic proportions had connected a series of blocks together with no regard for architectural design. Still it was the jewel in GEM Co’s crown, positioned at the apex of three major routes through hyperspace.

Through the small porthole at her left shoulder, the little Hawaiian nurse, Millie Konoho, could see the center section of the station where most of the incoming vehicles docked. Her ship, the triangular shaped hospital ship, the
Louis
Pasteur
, hung suspended in its bay, a white cylinder stretching between it and the station like an umbilical cord. They had docked about thirty minutes ago and Millie and the chief surgeon, Dr. Aurelia, had come immediately to Governor Arnott’s office. They were still waiting for the governor’s arrival.

Tucking a loose strand of brown hair behind her ear, Millie turned her attention from the porthole. The governor’s office was at the end of a long, arm-like section of the station directly attached to the center docking station. It reminded Millie of a cabin of a ship with rows of portholes on either side though most of them were shuttered.

The furnishings were rich mahogany, the floor carpeted in thick, tan mohair. The door behind her led to an outer office area where a number of clerks had their desks. The air filters hummed softly and had obviously been treated with some kind of aromatic spice.

Dr. Aurelia paced back and forth, stumping around with her uneven gait. She stopped in the middle of the room, hands on her thin hips. “He’s making us wait on purpose, the little weasel.”

“Why don’t you sit down and relax,” Millie suggested. She watched as the chief surgeon started pacing again, her deep jade green eyes beginning to glitter with anger. Aurelia had her thick, dark brown hair bound up in a special comb on top of her head. The comb wobbled with each step she took.

Millie was sure it would topple over at any moment. It wouldn’t dare, she thought and hid a smile behind a yawn.

Just then they heard the soft swoosh of the governor’s private elevator behind his desk. It opened and Miles Arnott stepped out.

He was a young man grown old with dissipation. His blue eyes were surrounded by yellow folds of fat. His hair was so perfectly shaped and immovable that no one but perhaps Arnott himself believed that it was real. He wore a long, gold tunic and baggy pants that only made him look fatter and more yellow.

“Doctors,” he greeted them, sucking in air with each breath as if he had just run five miles.

Millie didn’t bother to correct him.

Faster than Millie thought she could move, Aurelia was in his face, leaning both palms against the desk top. “I presume your delay in meeting us was on a matter of great importance,” she said in her low-pitched, gritty voice, looking as if she presumed no such thing.

“What? Oh, yes...” Arnott mumbled as he plopped into his chair, the seat cushion giving a heavy sigh.

He thumbed a key on the presspad on the desktop and a drawer slid open to reveal a row of shot glasses and a decanter half full of pink Armonian whiskey. Pouring himself a glass, Arnott gulped it down and shut the drawer without offering his guests any. “There’s been an outbreak of box pox on the station.”

Aurelia gave a short laugh, “You’re joking right?”

“No, no. We’ve had more than 30 cases already.”

“Governor, you don’t send out an urgent message to a hospital ship for box pox. It’s so minor they don’t even bother putting it on the list of communicable diseases.”

“Well, it is communicable. Seems like every blasted Jidalian has it.” Arnott, mopping his face with a handkerchief, gave both women an imploring look. “I’ve just spent two hours placating the Dulan. He’s threatening to pull all his people off the station.”

Hands on her hips now, Aurelia shrugged. “Fine. Then I want a full quarantine of the station. Nobody gets on, nobody gets off. We’ll start testing for a carrier immediately.”

Arnott’s eyes widened. “No, no wait a minute. I can’t quarantine this station. We get more than five thousand people through here a day. They’ll be furious.”

“Governor,” Millie leaned forward in her seat. “If the Dulan pulls his people off then he will probably pull our orbit lease for this station too.”

Arnott folded his round head into his hands.

“Let us do our job and it will all be over in about twenty-four hours. They can’t complain too much about that,” Millie added.

“All right,” Arnott said, his voice muffled. He waved a hand, “Get started. I’ll have the quarantine posted.”

“I also want the infected patients isolated,” Aurelia said.

“Fine, fine. Just go.”

Millie rose and followed Aurelia out the door and through the clerks’ office.

“He inspires my confidence.” Aurelia muttered as they walked down the hallway.

“I don’t imagine it’s easy to run a place like this,” Millie replied. “Where are you planning to set up the testing area?”

“The big conference hall over in the D-wing.”

The two women stepped into one of the open elevators in a row of twelve. They sat down in the bucket seats and put on five point harnesses. This was an express car that traveled straight through to the opposite end of the station. Most people preferred the slower cars that stopped and made connections with other elevators. A red sign on the back wall warned off anyone with heart or back problems or pregnant women. Both Millie and Aurelia liked the express because it was faster and less crowded.

As soon as they were buckled in, the car took off, whooshing through its tube around sharp right angles, dropping rapidly through several levels.

“I thought the conference hall was in A-wing,” Millie said.

“You’re thinking of the smaller one for company meetings. We’ll need the big one. It has two entrances so we can control traffic flow.”

“I don’t know how you find your way around this place,” Millie said, shaking her head. “I get lost right off the docking platform.”

“I studied the blueprints.”

Millie held back the first comment that came to mind. Aurelia didn’t take teasing well and from the shortness in her tone and the tap-tap of her right foot, Millie could see now was not a good time.

The elevator stopped, popping its doors open on the docking level of D-wing. It was like entering a hurricane after the eye of the storm had passed. The governor’s wing had a quiet, ordered efficiency along with restricted access. Here, aliens of every species converged in a cacophony of sounds and smells.

Three Aguanians, looking like trained alligators, waddled past the elevator trailing behind them a pungent, grassy sort of odor. There were Kaprinians with their beetle antennae, talking quickly in their harsh language. Fat, bristly Sclarians scurried around unloading crates off huge anti-gravity carts, arguing with the human GEM Co. employees, identified by their green jumpsuits, who were trying to control the chaos. Ramans went to and fro, dark and quiet but laced with heavy oils and perfumes. Berellians, Matians, Awkanites, Gidellians and on and on, a galactic parade. The only notable absence was the Jidalians. Over a thousand of them worked on the station but not one was in evidence. Another reason why the humans looked over stressed.

Millie clicked off the language translator hooked to her utility belt. At the moment, it was programmed to English-Sclarian but the Sclarians had just started another, louder, argument and she didn’t care to hear what they were saying.

The two women threaded their way through beings, boxes and moving vehicles. As they worked their way around a group of Ritalinites taking a tour of the space station, Aurelia muttered, “Hurry up, Mil. Move faster.”

“What’s wrong?”

“They’re going to announce that quarantine any minute,” Aurelia whispered back. “They’d better,” she added.

“Oh, frap,” Millie stepped up her pace. “Let me out of here.”

They boarded another elevator, a regular one this time, along with a Sclarian and two Berellians. As the doors closed, the usual uncomfortable silence ensued. Millie, stuck between the two Berellians, could feel the heat rising from their furry bodies. Both stood at least three meters tall, making Millie feel like a leprechaun. At least they were clean, unlike the scruffy-looking Sclarian who kept wiping his snout then sucking on his paw.

A buzzing sound came out of the computer grid on the wall, indicating an announcement was coming. Millie glanced over at Aurelia who was leaning against the back wall staring innocently at the doors.

“Attention. Attention, all personnel aboard the space station. A 24 hour quarantine has been placed on this station by order of Dr. Aurelia. There is nothing to be alarmed about. Symptoms of raphrydia have been detected and these cases have been isolated. You are requested to cooperate with testing that will commence shortly. Again, do not be alarmed. This is a routine matter. We will keep you informed.” The message, delivered in a pleasant, monotone female voice repeated several times in various languages.

Millie was glad she turned off her translator. The Sclarian went off in a tirade, hissing and barking at the computer grid. Millie knew only a few words in Sclarian but didn’t hear any of them. The two Berellians murmured quietly between themselves.

Aurelia suddenly straightened, tapped the Sclarian on the back and barked something at him. Instant silence. The Berellians gave her a nod.

Finally, the elevator doors opened. The Sclarian gave Aurelia a dirty look then scurried off. Millie and Aurelia stepped out, heading for the conference hall at the end of the corridor.

“I didn’t think you knew Sclarian,” Millie said.

“I can understand most of it. I don’t speak it very well but enough to shut somebody up.”

“We’re going to get a lot of that,” Millie sighed.

“Nice of Arnott to use my name. Hopefully most of them won’t know what raphrydia really is.”

They each pulled open one of the heavy wooden doors to the hall. This was an older section of the station and in fact had been a loading bay. The engineers had just switched the doors and never bothered to reconnect the automatic opener. It was just a huge, empty room now with a white tiled floor. A small side door to the right led to a short, connecting walkway that curved back to the corridor they had just come from.

“This will work fine,” Aurelia said, her voice bouncing up to the ceiling 100 meters above their heads and back. “We’ll have them come in the front door here and out the side door.”

Millie nodded. “I’ll call the
Pasteur
and have the crew start bringing equipment over. It’s going to be a long night.”

 

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