The Road Of Danger – Snippet 18


CHAPTER 5: Holm on Kronstadt


          There were six spaces reserved for Commanding Officers in front of the Operations Annex, three ahead and three behind the space marked Admiral; four were empty. Hogg pulled into one, rode up the curb, and straightened out. The car was half into the admiral’s spot, but Daniel was pretty sure that Cox wouldn’t arrive in the next few minutes.


          Hogg looked at him truculently and said, “We’re bloody leaving the planet in a couple hours, aren’t we?”


          Daniel got out with a smile. “Quite right, Hogg,” he said. He walked toward the entrance carrying the small chip case. “I don’t expect to be long.”


          A blue pennant with the single silver star of a captain dangled from the standard on the car’s right fender. Closely examined, one would see that Hogg had picked out the previous name Cossack and embroidered Princess Cecile in its place. He wasn’t the most polished servant an RCN officer might have, but even in matters of display he was more useful than an outsider might have guessed from his scruffy exterior.


          The four guards at the front door were spacers, not Marines. They watched those entering the building, probably checking uniforms, but they didn’t bother looking at IDs. That would have been a major bottleneck given the crush of traffic caused by the deployment warning order, as well as being a pointless waste of time.


          The Operations Annex was a converted warehouse whose wooden floor held the odors from the spices which had been stored here in former days. Daniel stepped out of the doorway but then paused to close his eyes and take in the mixture of scents. He understood his fellow humans well enough to know that the personnel working here must complain bitterly about the stinking conditions, but to Daniel it was trip back to his childhood and Uncle Stacy’s tales of wondrous worlds among the stars.


          Departures in holographic red letters hung over two consoles in front of an enclosed office in the corner. The bar which framed them was also of coherent light. A lieutenant in utilities talked heatedly to the enlisted clerk at the console on the right, but the other clerk was shifting data with no outside interference.


          Until now, Daniel thought. Wearing a pleasant smile, he strode to the left-hand console, waited a polite moment, and then said, “Excuse me, technician. I’d like to file my departure request–“


          The technician–thirtyish and more fit than the normal run of desk jockeys–looked up with a sour expression.


          “–and because we’re operating directly under Admiral Cox’s orders, I decided to deliver the information in chip form rather than transmitting it with the risk it might go into the wrong bin.”


          Phrased that way, the statement wasn’t quite a threat. Despite Daniel’s smile, the clerk was certainly aware that it could become a threat in a heartbeat.


          “Ah, all right, sir,” said the technician, reaching through his holographic display to take the case. He opened it, removed the chip, and inserted it into an access slot on his console. “This would be…?”


          “I’m Leary of the Princess Cecile,” Daniel said. “We’ll be lifting for Sunbright at 1700 hours, carrying out the regional commander’s directions.”


          “Sunbright?” the clerk said. He stared at the data which the chip had just thrown onto his screen. It merely expanded on what Daniel had just told him, of course. “Sunbright? Ah–“


          His index finger made quick gestures on a virtual touch-screen. He said, “Ah, Captain? If you wouldn’t mind waiting for a moment, I’d like to show this to the deputy head and for his input. That is, your plan’s in order, but there are some–“


          The door of the office behind him opened; a lieutenant commander wearing Grays stepped out. He was a short, slim man with a dark complexion and hair as black as cannel coal.


          “Sir?” he said, his eyes fastening on Daniel. “Captain Leary? I’m El-Tee-See Shiniviki, I’m the deputy operations officer. Might I see you in my office for a moment?”


          Daniel walked into the office with no more than the faint, friendly smile he had been wearing since he arrived at the annex. It was a struggle not to laugh out loud, though.


          Daniel had come here to convince everyone in the Macotta Squadron–and by extension, everyone to whom they talked–that the Princess Cecile was heading for Sunbright; and in addition, that her captain was a ninny. He was having greater success than he had even hoped.


          “Please take a seat, Captain,” Shiniviki said, nodding to a chair as he said down at his console. “I realize that you’re not under the Squadron’s operational control, but I feel that I’d be derelict in my duty if I didn’t offer some advice.”


          He cleared his throat, then added, “My advice is that you not go to Sunbright.”


          Daniel sat carefully. The chairs were extruded metal, standard RCN issue; they were no different from those in the Sissie‘s wardroom except that these were not bolted to the deck.


          “But Commander…,” Daniel said in apparent puzzlement. “Admiral Cox was very clear about what he expected me to do.”


          Shiniviki stared at him, frowning in concentration. He’s trying to imagine how somebody so stupidly literal could have gotten the reputation and quick promotions that I have, Daniel thought. And he’s about to put that down to extremely good luck.


          “Look, Captain,” the lieutenant commander said, “Admiral Cox needs to demonstrate that we, that the RCN, are making a proper effort to repatriate this rebel leader. But the admiral doesn’t care–that is, nobody really believes that you can succeed. That’s if the rebel even exists.”


          He leaned back and spread his arms. The walls of the office were real wood, probably a local variety. They had been varnished instead of being painted; the crossing diagonals of the grain gave the impression that the smooth surface was faceted.


          “Our intelligence section doesn’t believe there’s a rebel using the name Freedom at all,” Shiniviki said. “He’s just an excuse dreamed up by the Sunbright government to explain why they can’t put down the rebels after four years of fighting.”


          “Well, I’m sure you have reasons for your belief, Commander,” Daniel said. He opened his eyelids still further to give the impression that he was a popeyed innocent. “But orders are orders, as our friends in the Alliance are fond of saying. I can but try.”