The Road Of Danger – Snippet 02


CHAPTER 1: Holm on Kronstadt


          Captain Daniel Leary whistled cheerfully as he and Adele Mundy turned from Dock Street onto Harbor Esplanade, walking from the Princess Cecile‘s berth toward the three-story pile of Macotta Regional Headquarters. Daniel had every right to be cheerful: he and his crew had brought the Sissie from Zenobia to Cinnabar in seventeen Standard days, a run which would have stretched a dedicated courier vessel. They had then–with the necessary orders and authorizations–made the run from Cinnabar to Kronstadt in eleven days more.


          The Sissie‘s fast sailing meant that Admiral Cox could get his battleships to Tattersall in plenty of time to prevent the invasion which would otherwise lead to renewed war between Cinnabar and the Alliance. Neither superpower could resume the conflict without collapse: forty years of nearly constant warfare had strained both societies to the breaking point. In a very real sense, preventing war over Tattersall meant preventing the end of galactic civilization.


          Not a bad job for a fighting corvette. Pretty bloody good, in fact.


“That’s ‘The Handsome Cabin Boy,’ isn’t it?” asked Officer Adele Mundy. “The tune, I mean.”


          “Ah!” said Daniel with a touch of embarrassment; he hadn’t been paying attention to what he was whistling. “Not really the thing to bring into an admiral’s office, you mean? And quite right, too.”


          “If I had meant that…,” Adele said. She didn’t sound angry, but she was perhaps a trifle more tart than she would have been with a friend if they hasn’t just completed a brutally hard run through the Matrix. “I would have said that. I was simply checking my recollection.”


          She pursed her lips as she considered, then added, “I don’t think anyone who could identify the music would be seriously offended by the lyrics. Although the record suggests that Admiral Cox doesn’t need much reason to lose his temper. No reason at all, in fact.”


          Daniel laughed, but he waited to respond until a pair of heavy trucks had passed, their ducted fans howling. The vehicles carried small arms which had been stored in the base armory while the ships of the Macotta Squadron were in harbor.


          As soon as the Sissie reached Kronstadt orbit, Daniel–through the agency of Signals Officer Mundy–had transmitted the orders he carried to the regional headquarters. Admiral Cox wasn’t waiting for the chip copy to arrive before he began preparing to lift his squadron off.


          “Cox does have a reputation for being, ah, testy,” Daniel said. “That probably has something to do with why he’s here in the Macotta Region when his record would justify a much more central command.”


          Navy House politics weren’t the sort of things a captain would normally discuss with a junior warrant officer, but Adele’s rank and position were more or less accidental. She was a trained librarian with–in Daniel’s opinion–an unequalled ability to sort and correlate information. If necessary, Daniel would have classed her as a supernumerary clerk, but because Adele could handle ordinary communications duties, she was Signals Officer of the Princess Cecile according to the records of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy.


          Three blue-and-white vans stenciled SHORE PATROL over broad vertical stripes tore past; the middle vehicle was even ringing its alarm bell. Adele followed them with her eyes, frowning slightly. “What are they doing?” she asked.


          “Carrying spacers picked up on the Strip to their vessels,” Daniel said. “I’m sure that the wording of the recall order justifies it, but there’s no operational reason for that–“


          He nodded after the speeding vans.


          “–since it’s going to be 48 hours minimum before the majority of the squadron can lift off.”


          Coughing slightly, Daniel added, “I’ve found that people who enlist in the Shore Patrol like to drive fast. And also to club real spacers who may have had a little to drink.”


          He kept his voice neutral, but the situation irritated him. The Shore Patrol performed a necessary function, but fighting spacers–which Daniel Leary was by any standard–tended to hold the members of the base permanent parties in contempt. That contempt was doubled for members of the Shore Patrol, the portion of the permanent party whom spacers on liberty were most likely to meet.


          “I see,” said Adele. From her tone, she probably did.


          Daniel shivered in a gust of wind. In part to change the subject, he said, “If I’d appreciated just how strong a breeze came off the water at this time of day, I’d have worn something over my Whites. I don’t have anything aboard the Sissie that’s suitable for greeting admirals, but I guess I could’ve dumped my watch coat onto his secretary’s desk before I went through to his office.”


          He’d noticed the local temperature from the bridge when the Sissie landed, but it hadn’t struck him as a matter of concern. While he was growing up on the Bantry estate, he’d thought nothing of standing on the sea wall during a winter storm. I’d have been wearing a lizardskin jacket, though, or at least a poncho over my shirt.