The Road Of Danger – Snippet 07

 

          The outburst proved Commander Ruffin was capable of umbrage at someone other than the captain and the signals officer of the Princess Cecile. As for who properly should have been handling a given duty, however…. The External Bureau was the Republic’s diplomatic hand, and the RCN was the sword which gave point to the Republic’s diplomacy. If the diplomats chose to offer a job to the armed service, Daniel’s feeling was, “So much the better!”

 

          A starship vented steam in a shriek that only slowly tapered back to silence. Daniel instinctively glanced out the window behind Ruffin, but the back of the building here faced away from the harbor. Chances were that one of the squadron had built up calcium in a cooling line, and the pre-liftoff test had nearly burst the tubing before a technician managed to open a valve.

 

          “Four years ago,” Ruffin said, “a rebellion broke out on Sunbright. They grow rice on the planet, a fancy variety and quite valuable, but the planet hadn’t attracted much attention. Five years ago, however, Fleet Central on Pleasaunce decided it was a good location for a staging base in case we tried to threaten Alliance holdings in the Funnel.”

 

          “Was there any chance of that?” Daniel said, drawn back into professional speculation as his personal irritation cooled.

 

          Ruffin’s snort showed that what Daniel remembered of the region was correct. “Bugger all!” the commander said. “Xenos keeps us starved for parts and crews here in the Macotta, and as for the ships–“

 

          She threw up her hands. “The Warhol is old, and the Schelling was launched when my grandfather was in service. I don’t think there’s an older battleship in the RCN. We’re no threat to the Funnel.”

 

          She cleared her throat and added, “Though we can see off that cruiser squadron from Madison easily enough. They’re Marie Class and haven’t been first-line ships for a generation.”

 

          “How does a rebellion on Sunbright become an RCN problem, then?” Daniel prodded gently. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the flickering of the control wands which Adele preferred to other input methods. She had doubtless called up all the available information on the situation and could have briefed Daniel with a few quick, crisp sentences.

 

          Though it would be informative to see how Ruffin framed the data. Often you learned as much from how people told you things as you did from the content.

 

          “Well…,” said Ruffin, glaring at her own display. “Well, the rebel leader uses the name Freedom, but he claims to be a Cinnabar citizen and to have backing from the Republic. This was fine during the war, of course, but since the Truce of Amiens….”

 

          Ruffin grimaced and cupped her empty hands upward.

 

          “Anyway, Pleasaunce complained to Xenos,” she said, “and Xenos handed the whole business here to the Macotta Regional Headquarters. Without any extra resources, I might add!”

 

          Brightening, she added, “Until you arrived, that is. You let us get on with the real crisis and still satisfy those pansies in the External Bureau.”

 

          “I see,” said Daniel. He expected he would see a great deal more as soon as he and Adele could talk freely outside Macotta Headquarters. Her wands had continued to flicker without slowing since the moment she had seated herself in a corner of Ruffin’s office. “Do you here in the region have any suggestions about how to carry out the task?”

 

          “Any way you please, captain!” Ruffin said. She stabbed an index finger into her virtual keyboard and straightened with an air of accomplishment. “According to your reputation, you’re quite the miracle worker; perhaps you can work another one here. Whether you do or not, that reputation is just the sort of window dressing that we need to get Xenos off our backs while we fix Tattersall.”

 

          She gestured to her display; from Daniel’s side of the desk, the hologram was a blur of color which averaged to gray. “I’ve sent all the information we have to your ship, the Princess. You can access it at your leisure. I don’t have anything else to add.”

 

          “Then we’ll leave you to your business,” Daniel said. Out of common politeness, he tried to keep the disgust out of his voice.

 

          He nodded, then turned and opened the office door; Adele had put her data unit away in the thigh pocket a tailor had added to her 2nd Class uniform.

 

          Adele will certainly have something to add.

 

***

 

          “I’d like to sit for a moment before we return to the Princess Cecile,” Adele said as she and Daniel left the outer office. “The benches around the fountain in front of the building should do.”

 

          In her own ears the words sounded like those of a prissy academic. Which of course she was, but the fact didn’t usually irritate her so much.

 

          “Right,” said Daniel, with a smile and a nod. “You know, it seemed nippy as we were walking up the avenue, but now the breeze feels like a good thing. Our reception warmed me considerably.”

 

          He really did seem to be in a good humor, though how that could be after the interviews with Cox and Ruffin was beyond Adele’s imagination. Daniel saw the world just as clearly as she did, but somehow he managed to put a positive gloss on the same bleak expanse of arrogance, incompetence, and greed.

 

          Adele walked around the fountain and settled, facing back toward the headquarters building. The statue of the cherub in the center would spout water straight up in the air through its trumpet when the fountain was operating, but the pool had been drained for the winter.

 

          The circular bench was cracked, seriously enough that Adele moved the width of her buttocks to the right. That in turn meant that the line from her to the cherub no longer extended through the building’s main door. The lack of symmetry made her momentarily furious.