The Road Of Danger – Snippet 05


          Adele wondered if commissioned officers could be charged with Dumb Insolence or if the offense was only applied to enlisted spacers. She would like to look up the answer with her personal data unit.


          She would like very much to escape into her personal data unit.


          “I’m supposed to believe that it was all for practical reasons?” Cox said in a hectoring voice. The design inlaid on his wooden desktop showed men with spears–and one woman–fighting a giant boar. It was very nice work. “That your father didn’t have dinner with Admiral Hartsfield and say that his son should be sent to the Macotta Region to burnish his hero image?”


          “Sir,” said Daniel stiffly. His eyes were focused out the window over the admiral’s shoulder. “I truly don’t believe that my father has any connection with the Navy Board. I myself haven’t spoken with him for years.”


          For a ship to make a quick passage between stars, it had to remain in the Matrix and take advantage of variations in time-space constants varied from one bubble universe to the next. Most vessels returned to the sidereal universe frequently, in part to check their astrogation by star sightings but also because humans do not belong outside the sidereal universe. The pressure of alienness weighed on crews, affecting some people more than others but affecting everyone to a degree.


          Daniel had spent nearly all the past month in the Matrix, and most of that time out on the Sissie‘s hull. That had allowed him to judge every nuance of energy gradients and adjust his course to make the quickest possible passage.


          It was discourteous for Cox to abuse a man who had just undergone that strain. It was dangerous to do so in front of the man’s friend, who had undergone the same strain and who had killed more people in the past few years than even her own fine mind could remember.


          Admiral Cox drew his head back slightly and pursed his lips. The new expression wasn’t welcoming, but Adele found it an improvement on the angry glare which he had worn until now.


          “Well, that doesn’t matter,” Cox said gruffly. “The orders say that you’re to put yourself and your ship under my command during the operation. That’s correct, isn’t it?”


          Perhaps he had recognized how unjust he had been. And perhaps he had considered some of the stories he’d heard about Officer Mundy.


          Daniel took a needed breath. “Yes sir!” he said brightly. “If I may say so, I believe Officer Mundy’s–“


          He nodded toward Adele with a smile.


          “–information gathering skills–“


          “That’s enough, Leary,” Cox snapped, returning the atmosphere in the office to the icy rage of moments before. “I’ve heard about your tame spy–“


          He made a dismissive gesture toward Adele. His eyes followed his hand for a moment but as quickly slid away from Adele’s still expression. She had been sure that her face was expressionless, but apparently she had been wrong about that.


          Where did he get the idea that I’m tame?


          “Anyway, I’ve heard about her,” Cox said more quietly, looking at Daniel and then to the holographic display skewed toward him from the right side of his desk. “In my judgment, my regional Naval Intelligence Detachment is quite capable of sweeping up these supposed plotters on Tattersall without help from outside. I’m therefore–“


          Commander Ruffin was grinning.


          “–going to assign you and your corvette to a matter of great diplomatic concern, Leary. I’m sending you to Sunbright in the Funnel Cluster to remove the Cinnabar citizen who’s reported to be leading a revolt there. Ruffin will give you the details.”


          “Sir?” said Daniel in more surprise than protest. “Sunbright is an Alliance base, isn’t it? Why–“


          Cox slammed his left palm down on the desk. Papers and small objects jumped; Adele noticed that the display became an unfocused blur for a moment. Even a ground installation should be better insulated against shock than that.


          “I said, Ruffin will take care of you!” Cox said. Less harshly he continued, “Ruffin, brief them in your office and then get back here. We’ve got a lot of work to do on this Tattersall business.”


          “Sir,” said Daniel. He saluted and turned to the door, reaching it before Commander Ruffin did.


          Adele followed. She decided to feel amused, though she didn’t allow the smile to reach her lips.


          She had started to pull out her data unit when Cox referred to Sunbright. That would have been not only discourteous but even an offense against discipline, likely to cause trouble for Daniel as well as herself. She had therefore controlled her reflex.


          But that restraint made it all the harder to avoid using the other tool which Adele used to keep the universe at bay. It would have been even more troublesome to have drawn her pistol to shoot dead the Regional Commandant and his aide.