The Road Of Danger – Snippet 13


          “The rebels would have to be very organized to carry off the timing for that,” Daniel said, frowning. He looked at the glass in his hand. “People on Cremona wouldn’t be able to do it. Nobody off-planet could have.”


          Sattler nodded. “And this Freedom was putting out feelers for exchanging rice for equipment at least three months before the shooting started,” he said. “Placing orders on condition of rice being delivered at the time agreed. There’s enough small traders that some of them were willing to chance that the deal would come through. With guns from security force warehouses in rebel hands, the customs and excise inspectors out in the farms had to run for the cities or have their brains blown out; so there was plenty of rice to trade for more guns and equipment”


          “You say ‘small traders,'” Daniel said. “Do you mean from Cremona, or…?”


          He was afraid the answer was going to be, “From Kronstadt and other Cinnabar worlds.” Which would sooner or later mean war.


          “Cremona, sure,” Sattler said, “but it’s more than that. They stage through Cremona mostly because it’s a short jump to Sunbright. But it can be anybody who’s got a ship of five hundred or a thousand tonnes and is looking for quick cash.”


          “Which is everybody who’s got a small tramp freighter,” Daniel said with a laugh. He let his expression return to neutrally pleasant. He said, “So you think that Freedom really is somebody–or somebodies?”


          Sattler nodded. He touched the bottle but didn’t lift it again. He cocked his head to the side and said, “Look, Captain, you don’t need to lecture me about what my place is with you in the room, but–look, you talked about you being ‘on duty.’ If you told me just what that duty was, I might be able to help more.”


          Daniel pursed his lips. He didn’t look toward Adele, but he could see out of the corner of his eye that she was still focused on her display. Sattler was paying no more attention to her than he was to the saucer hat which Dan had tossed on the desk when he sat down.


          “The Alliance requests that we remove Freedom from Sunbright because he’s a Cinnabar citizen,” Daniel said. “Admiral Cox has delegated that duty to me. Frankly, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that it was a complete fool’s errand. As I said, the Admiral and I didn’t get off on the right foot.”


          Sattler tapped the desk three times while staring into the middle distance. He straightened in his chair and picked up the bottle.


          “Give me your bloody glass,” he said. Daniel handed it over for another four ounces.


          Sattler drank from the bottle, then lowered it and said in a harsh voice, “I’m a trader, you know that. I’ve got ships as well as well as this–“


          He waved generally with his left hand.


          “–and other stuff. Before the last war I had six ships.”


          Daniel sipped and nodded. He didn’t interrupt.


          “Other shippers in the region laid up their hulls right away,” Sattler said. “There’s more pirates than patrols in the Macotta even when things are peaceful, and in a war the pirates all claim to be privateers. I left my ships out because I’m from Bryce. I had to prove that I’m a good Cinnabar citizen. When the third ship got taken, I grounded the three I still had. It was worth that to me not to have questions asked.”


          Daniel nodded again as Sattler drank.


          “We’ve got peace again,” the merchant said, his voice roughened further by the liquor. “My ships are out, I’m making money.”


          He leaned forward and said, “I’m making money out of the revolt on Sunbright. I guess you figured that?”


          “Yes,” Daniel said; he sipped. Sattler was a successful businessman, and the biggest business in this region must be the rebellion on Sunbright.


          “But I don’t want war again,” Sattler said. “The business might survive but it might not, and if things got bad enough–well, I’ve seen mobs and I don’t want to be facing one. The security police are bad enough. If I could help you find Freedom, I would; but I can’t.”


          Adele shut down her data unit and straightened. Daniel emptied his glass, set it on the desk, and got up. Grinning at the merchant, he said, “Well, Master Sattler, I believe you. Which is a pity, because I’d certainly welcome a shortcut to the goal I’ve been set. Good day to you and–“


          He nodded to the woman and children on the left wall.


          “–your family. I’m going to ponder what seems at present to be an intractable problem.”


          Adele fell in behind him as he walked into the outer office. Neither niece noticed the visitors were leaving until Daniel had lifted the gate in the counter himself. The girls stared in frozen horror despite Daniel’s pleasant smile to each of them.


          “Where to, young master?” asked Hogg, standing at the back of the car; Tovera was at the front.


          Daniel smiled faintly. The words were a challenge of sorts–to Adele, who had slapped both servants down without hesitation when they wanted to enter the building.


          “To the Sissie, I believe,” he said. He glanced at Adele, but she was already getting into the vehicle. He went around to the other passenger door.

          “I entered all of Sattler’s files,” Adele said as Hogg–who was apparently driving back–started the engine. “Though his security was surprisingly good. He’s making quite a lot of money from smuggling rice out of Sunbright–and arms in, of course. But he’s not an Alliance agent, and he’s not involved with the rebellion itself, which is rather a pity.”


          The car lifted on its suspension and made a needlessly hard U-turn to head back to the harbor. Traffic was light, but Hogg still came close to broad siding a truck as he pulled out.


          “So this trip didn’t help us after all?” Daniel said, when he was sure that Adele had said all she intended to for the moment. Her data unit was live again.


          “No, I wouldn’t say that,” she said toward her display. “I think the details of Master Sattler’s smuggling enterprises are very useful indeed.”