The Road Of Danger – Snippet 08


          She smiled suddenly. Daniel said, “Adele?”


          “Admiral Cox made me angrier than I realized,” Adele said, looking at her friend. She felt the smile still quivering on her lips; it wasn’t a feeling she was familiar with. “I’m still angry, it appears. That’s reasonable, but planning to shoot the head off a statue because it’s in the wrong place–“


          She indicated the cherub, deliberately using her left hand; her gun hand.


          ­”–is as foolish as the admiral himself.”


          Daniel looked from Adele to the statue–it was dull gray metal, probably lead–and then back to the tunic pocket where Adele kept her pistol. “I suggest you use a heavier weapon,” he said. “Or I suppose we could move closer?”


          Adele kept silent for a moment. Then she said, her voice as dry as Daniel’s own, “Thank you. I’ll continue to review my options.”


          She cleared her throat and went on, “The Macotta Region remained quiet during most of the war. The regional squadrons are small compared to the volume for which they’re responsible, and both Cox and his opposite numbers are more concerned about being out of position if the enemy attacked than they were of attacking the enemy. But seven years ago, Captain Baines swept through the Funnel with a fast cruiser squadron drawn from the Cinnabar Home Fleet.”


          “Right,” said Daniel. “A stunt, really. Baines did quite a lot of damage to shipping, but it wasn’t significant because nothing in the Funnel is significant. He stressed all his ships and lost the Grey in a landing accident because her thrusters had limed up.”


          He shrugged. “I gather it was good for morale, though,” he said. “On Cinnabar itself, that is. I don’t think there was a single regional commander who didn’t think he had a better use for a couple of Baines’ eight cruisers than to send them off to the back of beyond.”


          “Yes,” said Adele. “In any case, there’s a rumor that Freedom is an officer from Baines’ squadron, left behind either by accident or deliberately to rouse a rebellion. That is why the Alliance demanded that we repatriate our citizen and probably why Xenos tasked the RCN rather than the Governor’s office.”


          She remembered Daniel’s raid on the Pleasaunce Home System in the ancient Ladouceur. Because of Adele’s training, she had initially believed in factors she could tabulate: tonnage, missiles, cannon, date of construction. Experience had taught her that personnel, not hardware, won battles.


          “I don’t recall Commander Ruffin mentioning that this rebel is an RCN officer,” Daniel said thoughtfully.


          “It’s possible that she considers the possibility as ridiculous as I do,” Adele said. She saw no need to keep the contempt out of her voice. Besides, she supposed she would have been just as tart if the commander were part of the discussion. “More likely, she’s as clueless as the people on Pleasaunce and Xenos who accepted the unfounded rumor to begin with. Other than the fact that Captain Baines passed within approximately thirty light-years of Sunbright some three years before the rebellion started, there’s no connection.”


          “Then there’s no way to track the fellow?” Daniel said. “I thought that if he really were one of Baines’ officers, you could… well, I’ve seen what you can do with a database. And Sunbright’s population is probably under a million, isn’t it?”


          “Eight hundred and ninety-three thousand,” Adele replied absently–from memory; she didn’t have to break into the stream of data crossing her display. “Though I’d expect that figure to be low. Sunbright didn’t really have a central government until the Alliance imposed one while the base was under construction, and most of the existing population regards the new officials as an occupying force.”


          She looked up from her display and met Daniel’s eyes. She realized that she felt good. “Daniel,” she said, “I think this will really be a challenge. I’m rather excited about the prospect. Shall we get back to the Sissie? I’d like to talk this over with Cory and Cazelet. That is–if you don’t mind?”


          Strictly speaking, Adele had no authority over commissioned officers–Cory was a lieutenant–or even a midshipman like Cazelet. Both men had an instinct for information gathering which on-the-job training with Adele had honed to a fine edge.


          As a practical matter, everyone aboard the Princess Cecile jumped when Adele forgot herself and said, “Jump!” She tried to hold to RCN proprieties, though–when that didn’t interfere with her accomplishing the task before her.


          “Yes, of course,” said Daniel, rising. While at rest he looked pudgy, but he didn’t need to use his arms to help lift him from the uncomfortably deep bench. “Ah–I realize it isn’t properly our concern any more, but do you think the local Naval Intelligence section will be able to handle the business on Tattersall?”


          “Yes, of course,” Adele said–more curtly than she intended. Her mind was on the next several stages in the process of locating Freedom and getting him off Sunbright. “When two RCN battleships appear over the planet, the plotters will fall all over themselves to inform on their friends before their friends inform on them. That’s what happened when the Three Circles Conspiracy unraveled, you’ll remember.”


          That’s what happened when your father unraveled the Three Circles Conspiracy, she thought. And in the process of doing so wiped out the Mundy family–with the exception of the elder daughter, Adele, who was studying off-planet.


          “I bow to your expertise,” Daniel said, mildly.


          Adele felt her lips form a tight smile again. Hunting down Freedom was a proper task for a person of her skills, so she would do it. But she hadn’t forgotten Admiral Cox and his aide, either. They had behaved discourteously to fellow RCN officers.


          And one of those officers was Mundy of Chatsworth, who was no longer a helpless orphan.