IN THE STORMY RED SKY â€“ snippet 20:
The only unexpected vessel below was the Spezza, a Hydriote transport of 5,000 tons. Adele dug into her particulars; the commercial code “protecting” them could be opened by any halfway competent signals officer in the merchant service. To Adele’s surprise, she found that the Spezza was under charter to the Ministry of Defense on Xenos.
Adele echoed Daniel’s display in a quadrant of her own to make sure that he wasn’t in the middle of a critical operation, then cued her link to the command console. This might be something to report openly, but when in doubt she preferred to keep their conversations private. Daniel could open it up if he wished.
“Daniel?” she said. “The transport in harbor is here to pick up a regiment of Cinnabar troops. Well, allied troops. But the ship’s from Hydra, not one of the Republic protectorates.”
“That is odd,” Daniel said. He’d been examining the degree of wear on the Milton’s thruster nozzles and the throats of her High Drive motors. He switched to real-time imagery of the transport with her specifications in a sidebar beneath. He didn’t have to ask which of the ships below was the Spezza, nor did he fumble with the sensor controls: ships were to him what information generally was to Adele. “What’s their itinerary?”
“The Spezza carried twelve hundred migrant laborers from Abraxis to Domedovo,” Adele said. “It then proceeded empty here to Paton, that’s three days, to pick up the troops. It hasn’t logged a course as yet. That is, there isn’t a course prepared on the Spezza’s computer, not just that they haven’t reported one to Paton Control.”
As she spoke, she called up the summary section on Hydra from the Sailing Directions. The Hydriotes had quite a lot of the carrying trade in this sector of human space.
War between Earth and her oldest colonies had created a thousand-year Hiatus in star travel. For the first seven hundred years following the Hiatus, the Hydriotes had been pirates. Bases on Hydra’s two moons provided a defensive screen that none of the neighboring worlds could breach.
With the appearance of major powers, first the Kostromans and even more when Cinnabar and the Alliance moved into the region, the Hydriotes had become traders with a reputation of rigid honesty. Hydra might have been absorbed by one or the other empires, but though the moon bases no longer conferred absolute safety, they did make the world an uneconomic mouthful to swallow.
Adele felt a flash of irritation at herself. She didn’t have a list of all Ministry of Defense charters. She wasn’t even sure that a list existed, but she probably could have compiled one back in Xenos. She hadn’t thought to do so, and now she needed the information!
Well, she wanted the information. In what Adele Mundy regarded as a perfect world, all information would be immediately accessible.
Aloud she said, “I don’t have record of any other instance of Defense chartering vessels from outside the protectorate for carrying troops. There have been cases of foreign ships being bought into service and given Cinnabar officers, that’s all. But I have only a small sample available, a very small sample. I’m sorry, Daniel, I’m not prepared.”
To her surprise, Daniel laughed. “I don’t know that you’ll consider this to be real data,” he said, “but speaking as a politician’s son, I can’t imagine any contracting officer letting a lucrative transportation contract to a foreign carrier and keeping his job. There’s quite a lot of money in those contracts, Adele, and they don’t go to firms which don’t have senatorial support in one way or another.”
After a moment’s pause, he added, “How did the soldiers arrive here if the Spezza didn’t bring them? They surely weren’t recruited on Paton, were they?”
“No,” said Adele, switching files to answer the new question. Data was pouring into her console from a score of sources, but she could only access one stream at a time. This answer came from Paton Control, not the log of the Spezza.
“The troops are from Thebes,” she said. “They’re the Brotherhood of Amorgos; some sort of religious order, apparently. Two small freighters registered on Sundog brought them to Paton from Horizon last month, then returned to Sundog with a cargo of dried fish. They, the regiment, lived in a Cone Transport warehouse until the Spezza arrived a week ago.”
“Gods above!” Daniel said. “The Brotherhood? Adele, they’re crack troops. I know, most allied units aren’t to the standards of the Land Forces of the Republic, but the Brotherhood’s an exception. We must’ve stumbled into some sort of secret operation. Though I can’t imagine what it could be around here.”
Adele could very easily imagine an operation that required a first-class regiment: a swoop onto Karst, detaining Headman Hieronymos in his palace on Angouleme, and using him as a spokesman for directives framed by a senior RCN advisor. There was absolutely no evidence of that or other secret activities in the region, however, and there was no chance that Mistress Sand wouldn’t have warned Adele about such matters even if her organization weren’t involved in them.
Aloud Adele said, “That would explain why I’m not finding information about the regiment’s past or intended route, certainly. I’m not sure it’s the correct answer, however.”
“Six, this is Three,” said Robinson over the command channel. “We have clearance to land in Hereward Harbor. Will you be taking her down, sir, over?”
The image of Daniel’s face went professionally neutral. Then he said, “Mister Robinson, I’d appreciate it if you landed our Millie today. I found her to run a few degrees nose-down when we lifted off, but she’s not tender as I’d feared she might be. Six out.”
“Aye-aye, sir!” said Robinson. “Ship, this is Three. Prepare for landing sequence in one, I repeat one, minute, over.”
To Adele, Daniel said, “He should have a chance to shine in front of his aunt, don’t you think? I’m very pleased with him as an officer, you know.”
Adele brought up an image of Hereward Harbor. It wasn’t real-time because the Milton’s orbit had her on the opposite side of the planet, but it was only ten minutes old.
“Daniel, why wouldn’t he let the automatic systems bring us down?” she said. “There’s nothing in a landing like this that requires human involvement, is there?”
Daniel’s smiling image nodded. “That’s correct,” he said. “It’s an open harbor. But it will give Robinson a chance to get the feel of the ship before he has to, say–”
His face grinned. There was more than humor in the expression.
“–land her in the middle of an Alliance fortress, you see?”
“Yes, Daniel,” Adele said. She thought of Fort Douaumont. Woetjans’ body flying backward with blood splashing the plastron of her rigging suit; the face of an Alliance soldier filling the sights of Adele’s pistol. His mouth was open, shouting in blind terror, as her trigger released….
“Ah, Adele?” Daniel added. “I think we’d better leave the Brotherhood’s course alone. We might call attention to matters that aren’t our business and complicate another department’s operations.”
“Beginning landing sequence–now!” said Blantyre’s voice from the BDC.
The thrusters’ roar and vibration doubled in intensity as the Milton began braking to land. The real buffeting wouldn’t start till the cruiser dropped into the lower levels of the atmosphere, but this was enough to draw a reasonable end to the conversation.
Adele settled back in her acceleration couch. She was glad to have an excuse not to reply to Daniel’s statement. It hadn’t been a real order, after all.
And she wouldn’t have obeyed it regardless. She was going to learn what brought the Brotherhood of Amorgos to Paton, if it was humanly possible to do so.