The Road Of Danger – Snippet 04

 

          Yes, which makes me your superior officer, Daniel thought. Aloud he said pleasantly, “Yes, commander. My aide and I are bringing orders from Navy House.”

 

          Adele held the thin document case in her right hand; she didn’t gesture to call attention to it. Her face was absolutely expressionless, but Daniel could feel anger beat off her like heat from an oven.

 

          With luck, Admiral Cox would ignore Adele during the coming interview. With even greater luck, neither Cox nor his aide would manage to push her farther. Daniel had the greatest respect for his friend’s self-control, but he knew very well what she was controlling.

 

          “Come on through, then,” the commander said. “The admiral has decided he can give you a minute. Casseli, let them both in.”

 

          The warrant officer lifted the flap. The three officers on this side of the counter watched the visitors with greater or lesser irritation.

 

          Adele smiled slightly to Daniel as she stepped through. “I’m reminding myself that there are fewer than twenty present,” she said in her quiet, cultured voice. “So there’s really no problem I can’t surmount, is there?”

 

          Daniel guffawed. The commander–the name on her tunic was Ruffin–glared at him.

 

          I wonder what she’d say, Daniel thought, if she knew that Adele meant she had only twenty rounds in her pistol’s magazine? Of course, she normally double-taps each target….

 

          Admiral Cox’s office had high windows with mythological figures–Daniel wasn’t sure what mythology–molded onto the columns separating them; the pattern continued, though at reduced scale, along the frieze just below the coffered ceiling. The furniture was equally sumptuous, which made the admiral’s mottled gray-on-gray utilities seem even more out of place. The regional command seemed to be at pains to demonstrate how fully alert they were, but changing uniforms wouldn’t have been one of Daniel’s operational priorities.

 

          Daniel took two paces into the room and saluted–badly. He was stiff with chill, and he’d never been any good at ceremony. “Captain Leary reporting with dispatches from Navy House, sir!” he said.

 

          The admiral’s return salute was perfunctory to the point of being insulting. He said, “They’re the same as what you signaled down, I take it?”

 

          “Yes sir,” Daniel said. Adele was offering the case–to him, not to Admiral Cox. “I had been warned that time was of the essence, so we took that shortcut to save the hour or so before we could get the Sissie–the ship, that is, down and open her up.”

 

          “Navy House was quite right,” Cox said, as though the decision had been made on Cinnabar instead of on the Sissie‘s bridge. He was a squat man whose hair was cut so short that it was almost shaved; he looked pointedly fit. “Hand them to Ruffin, then, and I’ll give you your orders.”

 

          “Sir!” Daniel said. He took the chip carrier from Adele, who hadn’t moved, and gave it to the smirking Commander Ruffin.

 

          “Indeed I will, Captain,” the admiral said. His smile was that of a man who is looking at the opponent he has just knocked to the floor, judging just where to put the boot in.

 

***

 

          Adele Mundy liked information–“lived for information” might be a better description of her attitude–but she had learned early that she preferred to get her information second-hand. Life didn’t always give her what she wanted, but she had tricks for dealing with uncomfortable realities.

 

          At present, for example, she was imagining that, while seated at her console on the bridge of the Princess Cecile, she was viewing the admiral’s office in hologram. That way she could treat what was being said simply as data, as information with no emotional weight.

 

          For Adele to display emotion here would compromise her mission and would–more important–embarrass her friend Daniel. She therefore avoided emotion.

 

          “Maybe you think I don’t know why your noble friends at Navy House sent the information by your yacht instead of a proper courier ship?” Cox said. His face was growing read and he gripped the edges of his desk hard enough to mottle his knuckles. “Is that it, Leary?”

 

          The phrase “noble friends” settled Adele’s data into a self-consistent whole. Cox’s father had been a power room technician and a member of a craft association which provided education for the qualified children of associates. Cox had excelled in astrogation training; then, at a time of great need during the Landsmarck War thirty years ago, he had transferred from merchant service to the RCN.

 

          That Cox had risen from those beginnings to the rank of admiral was wholly due to his own effort and abilities. It wasn’t surprising that he felt hostile to a highly regarded captain who was also the son of Speaker Leary–one of the most powerful and most feared members of the Senate. Cox had no way of knowing that Daniel had at age sixteen broken permanently with his father by enlisting in the Naval Academy.

 

          “Sir…,” Daniel said carefully. He would have probably have preferred to remain silent–there was nothing useful he could say, after all–but Cox’s phrasing didn’t permit him that option. “I believe the Board may have taken into account that the Princess Cecile was fully worked up, having just made a run from Zenobia. I honestly don’t believe that a courier–the Themis was on call–which hadn’t been in the Matrix for thirty days could have bettered our time from Xenos.”