The Road Of Danger – Snippet 20


          She checked to be sure that her automated systems were harvesting communications: between Macotta HQ and the ships of the squadron, and among the ships themselves. The systems were, of course, and she wouldn’t lose anything by waiting to review the data until they were in the Matrix.


          She said, “All right, since we’re both superfluous to the vessel’s requirements at the moment, I propose to brief you on Sunbright.”


          “I’m in your hands, Lady Hrynko,” Daniel said, then chuckled. “During the voyage I’ll read the files you’ve compiled, but I’d appreciate an oral précis.”


          This is my duty, Adele thought as she hesitated a moment to organize the data in her mind. Not to brief Daniel, but to entertain him when he’s feeling uncomfortable because he’s removed himself from his normal duties.


          Pasternak had completed his individual thruster checks. He and Vesey–Captain Vesey–were discussing Unit E with a minuteness that irritated Adele despite the mere shadow of attention she gave it.


          The ship’s officers were obviously just as uncomfortable performing in front of Daniel as he was in watching them do so. She hoped that Vesey and the others would shed that over-caution when they were on their own; even a signals officer/librarian could see that E’s three-percent below average output was insignificant in any real sense.


          “The administrative capital, Saal, is the part of Sunbright which is really under Alliance control,” Adele said as strands of data settled into place. “Saal includes the starport and the logistics base–“


          “The base whose construction set off the rebellion?” Daniel said.


          “The causes of the revolt are more complex than that,” Adele said. “But the influx of construction workers and staff was certainly a factor.”


          She coughed and went on, “In any case, Saal is more extensive than even its population, some twenty percent of the planet’s total, implies. There’s a fence and bunker line, so though rebels certainly get in and out of the city, they’re unlikely to attempt a head-on attack.”


          She had almost said, “They wouldn’t attempt a head-on attack.” That was the sort of thing that people said when they didn’t think, since even a little reflection would remind them that people often did equally wild things–and that sometimes the attempts succeeded, because their enemy had been caught completely off-guard.


          It irritated Adele to–almost–speak thoughtlessly. Irritation was almost the only constant in her life, however, so perhaps she should probably be thankful for the near blunder.


          With her lips forming the shadow of a smile, Adele continued, “There are Alliance administrators for all the communities, and often they actually live in these communities.”


          “Often they do?” Daniel said.


          “Yes, though of course some administrators prefer to remain in Saal and carry out their duties electronically,” she explained. “But ordinarily they won’t have any problems with the rebels if they keep out of the way during the hours of darkness and more generally avoid rocking the boat. So to speak.”


          Daniel’s image was frowning. “So basically,” he said, “the government, the administration imposed from Pleasaunce, controls the Fleet base. Which is really the only thing which is really important to the Alliance.”


          “Yes,” said Adele, pleased again by her friend’s quick understanding. “The Alliance problem is that the population outside Saal is large enough and–thanks to Freedom–hostile enough to require a very expensive garrison for that base.”


          Two thrusters, balanced bow and stern, lighted again. This was the start of lift-off procedure.


          Adele shrugged. “I suspect that Guarantor Porra and his advisors would willingly give up all revenue from Sunbright rice–pink rice, it’s known in the trade–if they could get rid of the rebellion. But at this point a significant element of the population would continue to attack Alliance facilities even if the government withdrew from everywhere but Saal itself. And anyway–“


          Adele checked the list of Alliance officials on Sunbright to make sure of the name.


          “–Governor Blaskett appears to be too hardline to consider backing down. I would say that he has at least as much to do with the rebellion as Freedom does.”


          “Rice smuggling funds the rebels?” Daniel said.


          Adele wondered if he particularly wanted to learn that information or if he were simply “showing interest.” Probably the former, since the Princess Cecile was not proceeding directly to Sunbright as they had worked to convince everyone on Kronstadt that they were. Getting into the rebel structure through their suppliers would be a good method, if it were possible.


          All eight of thrusters were running now, but their nozzles were flared to waste their energy into the water of the harbor. The roar was nonetheless visceral, and enveloping steam shook the corvette.


          “I can’t find any other source of funds,” Adele said. Her tone was neutral, but the fact galled her. “Obviously the available records on smuggling are partial. Available to me, but I think to anyone; there’s no centralized control, and even when I get the Sunbright records–“


          She had no doubt that she would have those records eventually.


          “–they’ll only give a further portion of the whole.”


          She pressed her lips together sourly, then went on, “I think rice smuggling and raids on stockpiles on Sunbright itself probably equip the rebels’ current operations. They don’t explain the initial investment, the start-up funds, which must have been considerable. There were mobile anti-ship missiles around the export warehouse at Tidy when the first group of interloping traders landed to pick up the rice. A missile destroyed the gunboat Panther when it approached to capture the smugglers.”


          Daniel’s face went perfectly blank. “I see,” he said. “Yes, that does imply a considerable initial outlay.”


          Then he said, “Adele, is it possible that Cinnabar is behind this rebellion? Because to be perfectly honest, I don’t see anywhere that the funds could have come from without government involvement.”


          “Yes, that’s possible,” Adele said; bluntly honest, because she was bluntly honest. On a matter of such importance, there was no option anyway. “I find no evidence that rogue elements in the Macotta bureaucracy are involved, but I’ll continue to look.”


          “Yes,” said Daniel. “And if you find that is the case, we’ll deal with it ourselves. Since we won’t be able to trust the local authorities.”


          He laughed. “You know?” he added. “I’m rather glad that Admiral Cox handed us this mission. It sounds as though it may be more interesting than anything that our friends in the Macotta Squadron are going to find on Tattersall.”


          “Liftoff!” said Captain Vesey. The thruster petals closed; the Princess Cecile shuddered, starting to rise again to the stars.