The Road Of Danger – Snippet 17


          The Bosun grinned and slammed the heel of her right fist into the palm of her left hand. Adele realized again that people had very different ways of expressing pleasure.


          Adele said, “The image is the Archduke Wilhelm, laid down at the same time as the Princess Cecile but in the Isocha Yards instead of in Kostroma City. She was wrecked on landing within a standard year of her first lift-off. She was sold to Krishnamurti and Wife for scrapping, but the broker instead repaired her and passed her on to the Bijalan Navy. That was twenty-three standard years ago.”


          “Bijala has a navy?” Cory said in surprise.


          “If they do, their officers probably have bones through their noses,” Cazelet replied contemptuously. “We had some Bijalan spacers sailing for us at Phoenix Starfreight. They were pretty handy as riggers, but you had to be careful not to test them with something complicated like a screw fastener.”


          “Kostroman government records simply indicate that the Wilhelm was sold out of service,” Adele said. She hadn’t dealt with Bijalans personally, so she was glad that Cazelet’s first-hand experience confirmed–colorfully–the impression which published sources had given her. “While I was on Kostroma, I assembled all the data I could. That included the files of Krishnamurti and Wife, which is how I learned about the Bijalan connection.”


          As Adele heard herself speak, she remembered that in most groups she would be asked why she had scooped up the records of private brokerage firms on a planet where she happened to be working. She didn’t have to explain to her shipmates on the Princess Cecile: they took it for granted, as they took for granted that despite years of starfaring, Officer Mundy had to be watched carefully if she went out on the hull lest she drift off unawares.


          The Sissies also took it for granted that the information Adele gathered compulsively would help them time and time again. As it was doing here.


          While Adele spoke, Daniel turned to his display and began going through the data which she had transmitted. He didn’t have Adele’s skills at sorting information, but she had seen before that his knowledge of ships allowed him to take intuitive shortcuts to insights that no amount of study would have gained her.


          The junior officers turned to their displays also. They followed Daniel’s lead like a school of fish moving as a single shimmering entity.


          “I don’t have any record of what happened to the Wilhelm after she left Kostroma,” Adele said, “but it appears to me a reasonable bet that we won’t be unmasked if we claim to be her.”


          “Given Bijala’s climate, the Wilhelm‘s a pile of rust on a mudbank by now,” Cazelet said flatly. “Nobody on Madison will have seen the real thing to compare with us.”


          “Nobody on Bijala will have seen the real Wilhelm either,” said Daniel in a tone of amazement. “Look at the surveyor’s report–“


          Adele didn’t bother with her console. She used her personal data unit as a controller for the console anyway, so she simply switched to the little unit’s own display. It was adequately sharp for this purpose.


          “See, the Wilhelm broke her back when her aft thrusters failed and her stern hit the dock, that’s why they scrapped her. Now, look at the repairs that the brokers made.”


          As Daniel spoke, he highlighted sections of the reports. His subordinates mirrored his display, while Adele kept watch on all four consoles. The pattern was a work of art if you had the right sort of mind, she supposed.


          “They replaced two thrusters,” said Vesey, speaking for the group as its most senior member. “Which left the Wilhelm two thrusters short of specifications, but that isn’t critical if the officers know what they’re doing. But they should have replaced twenty feet of hull, and instead there’s just a six-foot band of structural plastic as a stiffener.”


          “And it’s not even bolted on properly, just tacked!” Cory said. “Not that that would matter. Look how the skin on both sides is crumpled! You couldn’t anchor bolts in that.”


          “I don’t understand how they could get officers to lift in a ship in that condition,” said Cory cautiously. He seemed to be feeling the results of being clouted twice for having spoken–or almost spoken–out of turn. “Real spacers, I mean.”


          “Cory got to the main point,” Daniel said, cutting off the discussion without raising his voice. “The Wilhelm‘s sailing master–“


          The corvette had actually been renamed Demon of Fanti before liftoff, but Adele caught herself before she interrupted.


          “–was from Cazador, but he’d drunk his way out of his captain’s license. The remaining officers were Bijalans, and the crew were whoever the Bijalans could hire from the waterfront in Kostroma City. I don’t imagine they were all spacers, and I’m certain that none of them were both sober and holding an able-bodied rating. Most were neither, I suspect.”


          There was general laughter. Woetjans said, “Like Six said to start out, if that lot didn’t crash on liftoff, then Kostroma was the last planet they saw in their lives. So–“


          She looked around.


          “–when do we lift, sir?”


          “In about eighteen hours, by my calculation,” said Daniel. Grinning broadly, he added, “But perhaps we should ask Former Principal Hrynko, the Sissie‘s new owner. Eh, Adele?”


          Adele gave the room as warm a smile as her personality allowed. “I’ll discuss that matter with my officers,” she said, “but for now I think we can expect to lift in about eighteen hours. I should point out, however–“


          They are my friends. They are more than friends, they’re my family.


          “–that my yacht is named The House of Hrynko. I hope you’ll all remember that, and I hope that I will remember it also.”


          The laughter resumed as Woetjans undogged the hatch to get to her duties.