The Road Of Danger – Snippet 19


          “Sir…,” Shiniviki said, obviously struggling to find the right words–and not to use the wrong ones to an officer who was his superior in rank despite being several years younger. “Ah. We’re at peace with the Alliance, of course, but Sunbright itself is under blockade by the Funnel Squadron, and there’s quite a lot of action between Alliance patrols and blockade runners of all descriptions. Accidents can happen, and–“


          He grimaced, looked at Daniel and looked away. “Look, sir,” he said, “There’s a lot of people in this region who believe that we’re behind the trouble on Sunbright. That Cinnabar is, I mean. Now, it’s not true, but you know how frustrated spacers can get on blockade duty. It wouldn’t do to have an incident between an Alliance patrol and an RCN warship, you see?”


          That’s almost a plea, Daniel realized. Shiniviki knew the kind of trouble there’d be in the Macotta Region if an Alliance destroyer put a missile into a yacht in Cinnabar service–or worse, if the firebrand in command of the Cinnabar ship managed to gut an Alliance patrol vessel. Beyond that practical consideration, though, the lieutenant commander seemed really worried that a foolish outsider was getting into trouble more complicated than he could imagine.


          “Commander,” Daniel said, rising to his feet. “I fully appreciate your concern. I will not act in a fashion that will complicate life for the personnel of the Macotta Region, and if somebody else isn’t as careful–


          He felt his grin harden. At this instant, he probably didn’t give the impression of a hapless dimwit as he’d been trying to do during the interview.


          “–I’ll work very hard to avoid making the situation worse. But–“


          His thawed his face back to harmlessly cheerful.


          “–I’m not going to spend my time drinking with Funnel officials in their sector capital and moaning about what a terrible thing this business on Sunbright is. I’m going to do my job, to the best of my ability.”


          Shiniviki shrugged. “Then I can only wish you the best of luck, Captain,” he said.


          As Daniel left the office, he thought he heard the lieutenant commander add, “And that’s what I hope for the Macotta Region, too.”




          Adele browsed information about Sunbright at the communications console, feeling the Princess Cecile shudder as the pumps cycled reaction mass. There would be plenty of time to strap in when it was really time to lift off; and if she forgot, as sometimes happened, it was unlikely to make any difference.


          “Testing H,” Pasternak warned over the command channel. The ship wallowed in a pillow of steam which roared from the slip beneath the sternmost starboard thruster. The unit was operating at low flow, with its nozzles irised fully open so that the plasma developed minimal thrust. Even so, the exhaust boiled cubic yards of water and raised a plume sparkling with ions which hadn’t yet been slaked by the atmosphere.


          Some of the Sissie‘s ports must still be open, because Adele felt the soggy warmth of steam and a moment later sneezed when ozone bit her nasal passages. Spacers tended to be blasé about conditions which would have most laymen screaming about health risks. Yes, of course there were health risks in shepherding a starship through the Matrix.


          The roar of exhaust silenced momentarily. “Testing A,” Pasternak said. He was running up the thrusters one at a time. This time the bloom of steam and noise came from below the port bow.


          When Adele first had lifted as Signals Officer of the Princess Cecile, she had turned her whole attention to data on her display; that way she didn’t have to think about what might happen to the ship. Now–


          She grinned as broadly as she ever did, though a stranger wouldn’t have noticed the expression.


          –she turned her whole attention to data on her display. because she didn’t worry about what might happen to the ship. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


          Pasternak shut down his thruster, then lit the next in sequence. The Power Room boards were echoed in miniature on Adele’s display, but the numbers and gauges meant nothing to her. She put them up simply from a desire for completeness.


          “Adele?” said Daniel over a two-way link. “Do you perhaps have something that a half-pay lieutenant could do while the ship’s officers are preparing for liftoff?


          Adele expanded the little image of Daniel set into the top of her display along with those of the Sissie‘s other officers. He was now in profile.


          She smiled again, tightly: that meant he was looking at her, kitty-corner across the compartment. Even at so short a distance, the holographic image was sharper.


          “I don’t have any duties at present, Daniel,” she said, continuing to use the intercom. Even without the roar of the thrusters, the bridge of a starship preparing for liftoff was too noisy a place to easily call from one console to another. “I’m just studying the situation on Sunbright. Ah–you’re really giving up command for the sake of your role as Lieutenant Kirby Pensett, then?”


          A roar that was louder but more diffuse shook the corvette, rocking her from side to side and slapping water violently against her pontoons. A larger ship must be lifting from a berth nearby. Adele switched the top third of her display to an optical panorama to see what was going on.


          “That’ll be the Blanche,” Daniel said. He hadn’t bothered to check anything but what memory and his ears provided. “Admiral Cox put the Blonde in orbit instead of the usual destroyer as soon as we sent down the orders to proceed to Tattersall. Now he’s sending her sister ship up to replace her while she lands, loads consumables for the voyage, and tops off her reaction mass.”


          He cleared his throat and said, “I, ah, have a tendency to take charge, you know. If I happen to do that while I’m supposed to be a passenger on the, ah, House of Hrynko, the results might range from bad to very bad. I’m trying to avoid that. And besides… well, it’s a bad habit. Any of my officers can handle this mission without me looking over their shoulders.”


          Adele sniffed. “My officers in that case, I believe, Lieutenant Pensett,” she said.