The Road Of Danger – Snippet 14


CHAPTER 4: Holm on Kronstadt


          Since Adele wanted Cory and Cazelet present for the discussion because they helped her with intelligence gathering, Daniel had included Vesey, his first lieutenant, and Woetjans, the Bosun, as well. Adding them was mostly a political decision.


          Woetjans wouldn’t care one way or the other: she was by no means stupid, but she regarded planning as something her betters–better born, better educated–did. Unless the plans involved clearing top-hamper after something disastrous happened to the rig, of course; or hand-to-hand fighting. You couldn’t find a better choice for clearing a path through a mob than Woetjans with a length of high-pressure tubing.


          Lieutenant Vesey, a slim, blond woman, was a more complex subject. She had come to the Princess Cecile as a midshipman on Daniel’s first voyage after the Navy Board confirmed his lieutenancy. From the beginning she had been an excellent by-the-book astrogator, and she had absorbed Daniel’s training–passed on from Uncle Stacy–in the art of the Matrix as no one he had met before or since.


          In all technical respects, Vesey was as fine an officer as one could ask for, and of course she didn’t lack courage. Daniel didn’t recall ever meeting an RCN officer whom he thought was a coward, though there had been no few whom he doubted could consistently put their shoes on the correct feet.


          Vesey’s problem was that she lacked the particular kind of ruthlessness which Daniel referred to–not in Vesey’s hearing–as killer instinct, the reflex to go for your opponent’s throat. She could set up a step by step attack, but she wouldn’t reflexively see and exploit an enemy’s weak point.


          That lack was a serious handicap for an RCN officer, and it made Vesey–who was more self-aware than was useful–unsure of herself. That was probably why she continued as the Sissie‘s first officer when her skills fitted her for a command of her own even after the cutbacks which resulted from the Treaty of Amiens.


          Daniel was sorry that Vesey’s career had stumbled in such a fashion, but the Sissie had gained by her misfortune. He could have left astrogation to her if he hadn’t loved the process himself, and Vesey’s ship-handling in normal space, now that she’d become comfortable with it, was better than his.


          “I told you about our new mission when I returned from meeting the regional commander…,” Daniel said, passing his wry smile across the command group as he spoke.


          “Yes, and we don’t deserve it,” said Cory angrily from the astrogation console. “I think it’s a bloody shame!”


          Daniel had decided to hold the briefing on the Princess Cecile‘s bridge. A corvette had very little internal space in civilian terms, but he and his officers had been together on the Sissie for years. She was home to them.


          He looked at his Second Lieutenant. Cory had been Vesey’s classmate, but initially he had been so cack-handed at everything he tried that Daniel had wondered how he had graduated from the Academy. The boy had demonstrated a flair for communications, however, which had blossomed under Adele’s direction.


          To Daniel’s amazement and probably Cory’s own, the midshipman had then developed into a serviceable astrogator and a useful all-round officer. The Navy Board had confirmed the promotion to lieutenant which Daniel granted Cory after the bloody victory off Cacique.


          “Mister Cory…,” Daniel said. He wasn’t angry, but complaints about the decisions of superior officers weren’t a good use of time. “If we had what we by rights deserve, we would all be dead and the Sissie would be a ball of gas in any one of a dozen star systems. If we may return to business?”


          “Sorry, sir!” Cory muttered toward his clasped hands.


          “Officer Mundy informed me that she sees a way to attack the problem,” Daniel said, nodding toward Adele. “Since I certainly don’t, I’ll ask her to proceed now.”


          There were two consoles each on the port and starboard sides of the compartment, with the command console in the far bow. The gunnery console was forward of Adele at the communications console to starboard and Vesey, whose normal station was in the Battle Direction Center in the stern, sat there now. The missile station where Midshipman Cazelet was sitting was astern of the astrogation console to port.


          The Gunner and the Chief Missileer had been ousted from the bridge for the time being, because this discussion didn’t involve their skills.  Chief Engineer Pasternak was in the Power Room, for the same reason and for an even better one: had he been present, he would have remained in seemingly comatose silence, as bored as a frog listening to a sermon.


          “Captain Leary interviewed Bernhard Sattler, the Alliance representative here,” Adele said without preamble. “He’s involved in trade with the Sunbright rebels, though this is simply a commercial matter. He appears to have no political interests.”


          The console seats could be rotated toward the interior of the compartment. The officers–and Woetjans, who stood with her back to the closed hatch–were facing the others present; except for Adele, whose eyes were on her display. Small images of her companions’ faces were inset into the top of her screen.


          She coughed to clear her throat, then added, “I found on reviewing the record of Sattler’s conversation that he admits these activities.”


          Daniel blinked. Adele had been present at the conversation. What did she mean by “on reviewing the record?”


          “It appears that other Kronstadt merchants are similarly involved,” Adele continued, “though probably none to the extent that Master Sattler is.”


          Adele’s body was in Sattler’s office, Daniel realized with a grin that he tried to hide. But her mind had been dancing down a score of information pathways, unconcerned about the sounds coming through her ears. She knew that if anything important was being discussed, it would be available on the recording her data unit was making. As indeed it had been….


          Everyone in this group respected Adele too much to doubt that she had a reason for the current lecture, but Daniel suspected he wasn’t the only one to wonder where she was going with what seemed a pointless side-track. Sattler had told them all he knew, and that had brought them no closer to the Sunbright rebel.