The Road Of Danger – Snippet 12


          Sattler drank directly from the bottle, watching Daniel as he did so. He lowered the bottle and said, “Angels’ Tears, Captain. A Bryce specialty, as you may know.”


          Daniel took a reasonable sip but held it in his mouth for a moment before he swallowed. The straw-colored liquor tasted like wood smoke, but it was as smooth as anything he’d drunk of such high alcohol content; it must run at least 150 proof.


          “Very good,” Daniel said. He took three more swallows to lower the contents of the glass by half, then leaned back in his chair. He said, “Tell me about the Sunbright Rebellion, Master Sattler. Who’s backing it?”


          Sattler set the bottle on his desk. “Officially,” he said, “interloping traders who bring in weapons and take out loads of rice. You know Sunbright rice?”


          Daniel shrugged. “I know of it,” he said. “It’s valuable, I gather.”


          “Yes,” the merchant agreed, “but it is delicious beyond even its present high price. As it’s exported farther and farther from Sunbright, the demand will continue to rise and so will the price.”


          Daniel shrugged again. “You said, ‘officially,'” he said. “And the truth?”


          “Clan chiefs on Cremona,” Sattler said, “maybe half a dozen out of thirty-odd all told. Cremona’s in the Funnel, but it’s independent. As a matter of fact, it’s so independent that it hasn’t been worth the Alliance’s time to take the place over, tempting though I’m sure the idea has looked even before now. The only way to get all the clans to cooperate is to bring in off-planet troops for everybody on Cremona to shoot at.”


          “There’s no government?” Daniel said, crossing his ankle over his knee as he sipped his liquor. He wondered what it had been distilled from.


          Sattler drank also, then said, “Not one that anybody pays any attention to unless they feel like it. There’s even an army, but it’s barefoot boys and riffraff who’d sell their equipment for a drink–if they had any equipment. The larger clans have private armies that aren’t as much of a joke, though.”


          Daniel nodded. “And no joke at all if you’re trying to move through a city,” he said. “I can see why the Alliance wouldn’t make the investment, though I suspect the regional government has been pushing for it. And has been overruled from Pleasaunce.”


          It was a real pleasure to deal with a man like Sattler, who was willing to be honest when he was sure that he was talking to wanted the truth–and that his listener wasn’t going to be easily fooled.


          “I shouldn’t wonder,” Sattler said. “Nobody in the Funnel government has taken me into their confidence, but that’s what I’d be saying in their place. There’s pirates operating out of Cremona too, though they mostly don’t pick on Alliance or Cinnabar-flagged ships.”


          He held the bottle out and raised an eyebrow. Daniel looked at his glass–an ounce remaining–and shook his head. “I didn’t get off on the best foot with Admiral Cox this morning,” he said, telling the truth but lying by implication. “The last I need is him claiming that I was drunk while on duty.”


          Daniel had needed to drink with the merchant to set the right tone for interview, but he’d done that. Four ounces, even of strong liquor, wasn’t going to put him under the table or even give him a real buzz, but more wouldn’t improve his job performance.


          Sattler thumped the bottle down and said, “It’s not just Cremona, though. Now, before I explain this, you have to understand something. To Cinnabar, the Forty Stars and the Funnel are both ruled–administered, if you’re delicate about words–“


          “I’m not,” said Daniel as he emptied his glass.


          “Right,” said Sattler. “They’re ruled from here and called the Macotta Region. To the Alliance they’ve got separate governments until you get up to the Seventeenth Diocese on Port Sanlouis. Admiral Jeletsky has the Forty Stars Squadron on Madison. He doesn’t care what happens in the Funnel, and neither does Governor Braun. In fact if their administrative rivals are having trouble on Sunbright, they both figure that they’re twice to the good. And that’s why–“


          He slapped his desktop with the fingers of his left hand. The bottle jumped.


          “–quite a lot of the weapons going to the rebels come from Madison. Most of the smuggled rice is sold there too, with no questions asked. You see?”


          Daniel grimaced. “All right,” he said. “I’ve seen things not a lot different on Cinnabar protectorates; I can believe it, well enough. But what about this ‘Freedom’ I hear about, the dashing rebel leader?”


          “Now there you got me,” Sattler said, glowering. He looked at the wall, then grunted and rapped a control with an index finger like a mallet.


          Flickers at the corners of Daniel’s eyes drew his attention: the three holographic wall displays had switched from cityscapes to images of a woman half Sattler’s age with a pair of six-year-old boys.


          The previous scenes had meant nothing to Daniel, but the fact that Sattler had changed them certainly did. With only minimal information to go on, Daniel would have made an even money bet that the images were from the merchant’s home world, Bryce, and that he had realized they weren’t the most politic decorations to be flaunting to an RCN officer.


          Sattler would have known better than to call attention to the images, however, if he hadn’t punished the bottle pretty heavily. Though he seemed calm enough, Daniel’s sudden arrival must have been a shock to his system.


          “Don’t worry about it,” Daniel said, staring down into his tented fingers. “Unless you’re lying to me, in which case you have worse problems than what you put on your walls.”


          The merchant sat still-faced for a moment, then barked a laugh. “You’ve given me no reason to lie,” he said. “But sorry for acting like a prat.”


          Sattler cleared his throat, then switched two of the displays back to streetscapes; the woman and children continued to beam from behind his chair. “I don’t know who Freedom is or if he’s one person,” he said. “There’s some who say he must be several people, a junta speaking through one throat. Anyway, he knows things–knows things and knew things. The first attacks, the start of the rebellion, hit every government arms stockpile on Sunbright before they had anything like real security.”