The Road Of Danger – Snippet 09


CHAPTER 3: Holm on Kronstadt


          The vehicle Hogg had found for them was a surface car with friction drive–a roller on a single central strut–but an air cushion suspension. Adele, in the back seat with Daniel, didn’t know what the advantage or claimed advantage was over vectored thrust like the armored personnel carriers which had become familiar to her, but no doubt there was one.


          “It rides very smoothly,” Daniel said, approvingly but perhaps with a touch of wonder.


          Adele sniffed. Hogg had a remarkable facility for finding vehicles, but they never rode smoothly when he drove them. This car had the logo of the Macotta Regional Authority on its front doors. She doubted that Hogg had simply stolen it, but anything was possible with that old poacher.


          “And just in case you was wondering how this happened to show up–” Hogg said, patting the fascia plate with his left hand; they swerved toward but not quite into a heavy truck speeding along the other lane of Dock Street with a load of frozen sheep carcasses “–we’re testing her for the repair depot and it’s all open and above-board.”


          “I’m glad to hear that, Hogg,” Daniel said, smiling but definitely sounding as though he meant the words. “And I’m also glad not to have to walk back from headquarters.”


          We were apparently all thinking the same thing, Adele realized. Well, by now we know one another well enough to be able to predict certain responses.


          “Ah…,” said Hogg, this time without turning his head toward his master in the back seat. “Your liquor cabinet’s short of a couple bottles of that apple brandy you picked up on Armagnac. There wasn’t time enough to get into a poker game, but I can find something to replace the booze by tomorrow morning, I figure.”


          Adele’s personal data unit balanced on her lap while she sorted the information which she had trolled in squadron headquarters. She shifted to a cultural database with her control wands, then said, “The local liquor is plum brandy. There appear to be better brands and worse ones, but from commentaries I’ve found, I think absolute alcohol from the Power Room would be a better choice than the low end of the spectrum.”


          She scrolled further down and added, “In fact, I think paint stripper would be a better choice than the low end.”


          “Perhaps Hogg and I could arrange a taste test,” said Tovera, the first words she had spoken since she arrived beside Hogg. “I’m sure there’s paint stripper we could requisition from Squadron Stores. Or–“


          She paused. Tovera was short, slim and colorless, a less memorable person to look at than even her mistress.


          “–perhaps I could get it by killing the supply clerk and everyone else in the warehouse.”


          Hogg guffawed. “Spoiled for choice, aren’t we?” he said.


          Daniel grinned also, but Adele noticed that the humor had taken a moment to replace a perfectly blank expression. Tovera was an intelligent sociopath. She had neither conscience nor emotions, but a strong sense of self-preservation made up for those absences.


          Tovera had learned to make jokes by studying how normal human beings created humor. Similarly, she functioned in society generally by copying the behavior of those whose judgment she trusted.


          Tovera trusted Adele. If Adele told her to slaughter everyone in a warehouse–or anywhere else–the only question Tovera might ask was whether her mistress had any preference for the method she used.


          “I’m sure,” Adele said in the present silence, “that if I do ask Tovera to wipe out a nursery school, I’ll have a very good reason for it.”


          The men laughed, and Tovera smiled with appreciation.


          Hogg thrust the steering yoke hard to the left, sliding neatly between the tail and nose of a pair of heavy trucks in the oncoming lane. Adele blinked. A stranger might have thought that it was a skilled though dangerous maneuver; she had enough experience of Hogg’s driving to know that he’d simply ignored other traffic.


          They had pulled onto the quay separating the last two slips–31 and 32–in the Kronstadt Naval Basin. They sped past a squadron repair ship–which was undergoing repair herself; all twelve of her High Drive motors were lined up beside her on the concrete–and pulled to a halt beside the corvette–and sometimes private yacht–Princess Cecile.


          “Welcome home, boys and girls!” Hogg said. He gestured toward the ship with the air of a conjurer.


          The Sissie lay on her side like a fat, twelve-hundred ton cigar. Within the corvette had five decks parallel to her axis; the bridge was on A–the topmost–Level in the bow, and the Battle Direction Center with its parallel controls and personnel was at the stern end of the corridor.


          At present the dorsal turret, near the bow with two 4-inch plasma cannon, was raised to provide more internal volume. The ventral turret, offset toward the stern, was under water and therefore out of sight.


          Adele put her personal data unit away and got out. Instead of going to the catwalk immediately, she stood for a moment looking toward the Princess Cecile over the car’s roof.


          Adele had first seen the corvette cruising slowly above Kostroma City, launching skyrockets and Roman candles from her open hatches as part of the Founder’s Day festivities. Then the vessel was merely an object: large, noisy, and unpleasantly bright to look at. Adele now knew that to save spectators’ eyesight, the Sissie‘s thruster nozzles had been flared to reduce the intensity of her plasma exhaust, but at the time the light had seemed to stab through her slitted eyelids.


          Since then, Adele had spent almost as much time on or about the corvette as she had away from it. With Daniel as captain, they had fought battleships, entered enemy bases, and travelled to the edges of the human universe.


          At various times the ship’s rigging had been burned off; it had lost the outriggers on which it floated following a water landing; and portions of its hull had been melted, dented, or holed. After each battle the rebuilt Princess Cecile had arisen as solid as before, ready to take her captain and crew to the next crisis.


          Hogg was joking, but the Princess Cecile really was more of a home than Adele had ever had on land.