The Road Of Danger – Snippet 06


CHAPTER 2: Holm on Kronstadt


          Daniel supposed that he should have waited for Commander Ruffin to usher them into her office, but she was behind Adele and Daniel really wanted to get his friend out of the admiral’s presence before something happened. He was thinking tactically, not what he’d expected when they entered the headquarters building.


          An RCN officer must always be ready to deal with a crisis. Daniel grinned.


          He swung Ruffin’s door back and waved Adele through with a flourish. Ruffin, close behind Adele, stiffened with irritated surprise.


          Daniel’s grin broadened and he repeated the gesture. “After you, please, Commander,” he said.


          Ruffin paused, then stepped through without looking at Daniel until she had reached her desk and sat down behind it. He closed the door behind him, standing with his back against the jamb. Adele was already seated at one of the severely functional chairs in front of the desk. The data unit was live on her lap.


          Adele served Cinnabar not only in uniform but also as an agent of the Republic’s intelligence service. Daniel knew of the association and had even met–socially–Mistress Bernis Sand, who directed those operations.


          Daniel was a patriot as well as an RCN officer, and he would help his friend Adele in any fashion that she requested. That said, the whole idea of spying struck him as grubby and unpleasant. He accepted that it was necessary, and he had used information which Adele provided without looking too closely at how she had come by it; but the admiral’s reference to “your tame spy,” had filled Daniel with as much disgust as anger.


          He could only guess how Adele had reacted to the gibe. That guess, however, was the reason Daniel had been in such a hurry to get his friend out of the admiral’s office.


          Ruffin’s desk and console were RCN standard, no different from the units in the outer office; the three chairs and the filing cabinet for hardcopy were equally utilitarian. The multi-paned window, however, was framed by pillars of gorgeous wood which had been turned in spiral patterns.


          Daniel had to restrain himself from walking over to examine the orange and black grain more closely. Is the wood local?


          Instead of speaking immediately, Ruffin brought her console display live and began sorting information with a touchpad. It wasn’t clear whether she was being deliberately insulting or was just flustered.


          Cheerfully, Daniel said, “I wonder, Commander? Did you originate the plan to send us to Sunbright, or did Admiral Cox devise it on his own?”


          Cox looked up with a furious expression. “Your arrival allows the Macotta Squadron to concentrate on the crisis on Tattersall!” she said. “Instead of sending elements off to the Funnel Region on what isn’t properly an RCN matter anyway.”


          She cleared her throat. “Now if you’ll sit down,” she said, “we’ll proceed with the briefing.”


          “I believe I’ll stand, Commander,” Daniel said. There were advantages to being fobbed off on an aide of lower rank. “I think I’ll absorb information better this way.”


          Daniel had very little personal experience of bullying. As a boy he’d grown up with his mother on Bantry, the family estate on the west coast, while his father spent his time in Xenos, ruthlessly pursuing money, power and bimbos. Hogg, now Captain Leary’s personal servant, had been the child’s minder and male role model.


          Daniel thought back to those days with a wry grin. He had been what his mother described as a high-spirited boy; others had found harsher terms. Nobody was going to bully the young squire, but neither were the sons of freeborn tenants going to be pushed around by a pipsqueak kid.


          Therefore Daniel had had the living daylights whaled out of him more than once. He gained respect on the estate because he kept getting up; but he kept getting knocked down again too, until Hogg decided it was time to end each fight by hauling his charge off to be cleaned up to the degree possible.


          Goodness knows how Hogg explained the damage to Mistress Leary, but fortunately she spent most of her life in a gentle reverie. She probably hadn’t paid much attention to her son’s cuts and bruises.


          At the Academy, the system itself was designed to crush cadets into RCN discipline. That, like the give-and-take of Bantry, was simply part of life. Occasionally someone would be singled out for personal attention, but not Daniel: he didn’t behave like a victim; his father, estranged or not, was powerful and famously ruthless; and Hogg, while his deportment lacked a good deal of what was expected of an officer’s servant, projected the cheerful air of a man who had garroted rabbits and was more than willing to garrote men who tried to harm his master.


          Cox and his flunky, however, were using RCN authority to display their pique rather than to serve the Republic. Daniel would obey the lawful orders of a superior officer–but when the superior officer was a prick abusing his authority, a Leary of Bantry didn’t roll onto his back and wave his legs in the air. And as for the prick’s lower-ranking toady–


          Daniel grinned. His native good humor made the expression a great deal more cheerful than it might have been on another man’s face. Let alone on Adele’s….


          Ruffin flushed angrily to see the smile, though the gods alone knew how she was interpreting it. She said, “Sunbright is an Alliance world in the Funnel Group, which to the Alliance is a separate administrative unit from the Forty Stars. They’re both part of the Macotta Region to us, to Cinnabar, so that’s why Xenos has handed this nonsense to us. The External Bureau has! This has nothing properly to do with the RCN.”