The Road Of Danger – Snippet 03


          Today Daniel wore his 1st Class dress uniform, since he was reporting to the Macotta Regional Commandant. Anything less would be viewed as an insult, even though technically his 2nd Class uniform–his Grays–would be proper. As he had said, Admiral Cox had the reputation of not needing an excuse to tear a strip off a subordinate.


          “We’ve been aboard the Sissie so long,” Adele said, “that I’d forgotten how the wind cuts, too. At least it’s not sleeting, and we don’t have to sleep in it.”


          She glanced toward him with a raised eyebrow. “At least I hope we won’t have to sleep in it,” she said. “Poverty provided me with many experiences which I would prefer not to revisit.”


          Daniel hoped Adele was being ironic, but it was just as easy to treat the comment as serious–as it might be. He said, “I don’t think we’ll be sleeping in a doorway tonight, but I may have Hogg bring us heavy coats before we walk back to the Sissie.”


          They’d reached the line of bollards that protected the front of the regional headquarters. The two guards at the main entrance wore battledress, and today their sub-machine guns weren’t for show. Unsmilingly, they watched Daniel and Adele approach; the alert must have made everyone on the base a little more jumpy than normal.


          Adele shrugged. “I did think that Admiral Cox might have sent a vehicle for us,” she said. “Or his Operations Section, at any rate, but perhaps they’re too busy dealing with their new orders to worry about courtesy toward the officer who brought those orders.”


          Adele did wear her Grays. They weren’t tailored as closely to her trim body as they might have been, so that the personal data unit along her right thigh and the pistol in the left pocket of her tunic were less obtrusive. There wouldn’t be a problem about that: formally, Signals Officer Mundy was a junior warrant officer on the corvette Princess Cecile, accompanying her commanding officer. As such she was beneath the notice of an admiral in the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. Informally….


          Daniel wasn’t sure that his friend even owned a set of Whites. When Adele deemed that a situation required formality, she wore civilian garments of the highest quality. By birth Adele was Lady Mundy of Chatsworth, head of one of the oldest and once most powerful families in the Republic. When she chose to make a point of it, no one doubted that the Mundys retained a great deal of power.


          The headquarters building was of yellow stone, not brick as Daniel had thought when he started down the esplanade. The corners, and the cornices above the windows on each of the three floors, were of a slightly darker stone than the walls. In all, very skilled workmanship had gone into a building which nonetheless had no more grace than a prison.


          Three officers wearing utilities but saucer hats with gold braid came out of the door in a hurry; one clutched a briefcase to her chest. A light truck with six seats in back pulled up beyond the bollards. They got into the vehicle and rode off. The tires of spun beryllium netting sang on the pavement.


          “Captain Daniel Leary, just landed in the Princess Cecile,” Daniel said to the Marine sergeant who seemed the senior man; both guards had relaxed when the strangers sauntered close enough to be seen as harmless by even the most paranoid observer. “Here to report to the regional commander.”


          “It’s to the right just inside the door,” the sergeant said, gesturing. “But we got a flap on here, so don’t be surprised if some clerk checks you in.”


          Daniel nodded pleasantly. It wasn’t the proper way to address a senior officer, but Marines weren’t in the same chain of command as spacers until you got up to the Navy Board–which was a very long distance from Kronstadt. The other guard pulled open the door for them, though the gesture was marred when two more officers came out, talking in excitement and taking only as much notice of Daniel and Adele as they did the line of bollards.


          The lobby must have been larger originally. A splendid crystal chandelier hung in line with the door, but a waist-high counter now stood a full ten feet out from where the right-hand wall must have been.


          A clerk under the eye of a senior warrant officer acted as gatekeeper to the several officers who wanted to get through. Beyond the counter were six consoles occupied by clerks.


          Across the bullpen was a closed door marked Admiral Aaron J Cox in raised gold letters. The door of the office beside it was open; the commander seated at the desk there wore utilities. It was unlikely that a regional headquarters operated on a combat footing normally, so she must have changed out of her dress uniform as a result of the signal from the Princess Cecile.


          The commander got up when she saw Daniel enter and approach the counter. Instead of greeting him, she tapped on the admiral’s door and stuck her head in. After what must have been a few words, she turned and called across the room, “You’re Captain Leary?”