The Road Of Danger – Snippet 21


CHAPTER 6: Point ME8*9JB


          Daniel stood with Cazelet on the topgallant crosstrees of the Ring D Dorsal antenna, watching mixed teams of riggers and techs from the ship’s side shift the Port and Starboard Ring F antennas sternward by thirty inches. Woetjans was in charge of the operation, with Vesey on the ground taking direction and learning from the bosun’s years of experience.


          “Does staggering the F Ring really make the ship more maneuverable, sir?” Cazelet asked, his eyes on the scene below. He was up here because he had a view of the whole operation and could direct the teams if they needed it. Daniel liked the view from high up a mast, but he was here today because it put him with Cazelet in privacy.


          A diamond saw screamed, cutting the last bolt head off the Port F mast step. Six spacers, in rigging suits without helmets, held the cables which would support the heavy step when Woetjans herself broke the grip of the rust which would continue to hold it.


          “Well, I can’t say, Cazelet,” Daniel admitted. “I’ve never been aboard a ship with this rig, not till now. Nobody but some Kostromans use it, and not many of them in this generation; but there’ve been some great Kostroman spacers.”


          Rigging suits–hard suits–were stiffened with fiber. The armor could turn strands of frayed cable which would tear an airsuit and the flesh beneath. Hard suits wouldn’t save a spacer who was under a falling spar, but wearing them was a reasonable safety precaution for the present sort of job.


          Daniel grinned. Woetjans–predictably–didn’t think hard suits were necessary; Vesey had overruled the Bosun. That was good, because otherwise Six would have had to reappear aboard the Sissie for long enough to give the order himself. He wasn’t going to have his people crippled because Woetjans thought any concession to safety was a form of cowardice.


          Cazelet had been leaning over to look down. He straightened and bent backward, rubbing the small of his back with both hands.


          Daniel grinned. The midshipman was balancing on steel tubing almost a hundred feet above the curve of the hull, and the hull’s eighty feet more above the sheet of solid ice on which the Sissie stood.


          ME8*9JB was a charted location, not a name. The planet had a breathable atmosphere and vast quantities of water in the form of ice, but there was no other encouragement to colonization and no indigenous life. Ships stopped here often to replenish their reaction mass, and a number never rose again; half a dozen were visible from the crosstrees, metallic glints against the glacier. Using his visor’s magnification, Daniel saw that the hulks had been stripped. Some had even lost sections of hull plating, leaving the frames bare.


          “This is the sort of place you only land if you’re having trouble,” said Cazelet, surveying their surroundings. Basalt ridges thrust up a mile to east and west of the corvette, channeling the slow river of ice; snow fields stretched beyond, occasionally marked by another black peak. The sun was a tiny blue-white dot in the high sky. “Sometimes the problem won’t be soluble.”


          “But eventually…,” Daniel said. “Somebody else with a problem will land, and maybe you can make one ship out of the parts of two or three.”


          Cazelet’s comment had been intelligent and on point. He’d entered the RCN as a midshipman by Daniel’s dispensation. The boy hadn’t been trained in the Academy, but experience he’d gained while working up from the bottom in his family’s shipping firm, Phoenix Starfreight, made him the superior of ordinary midshipmen in many aspects. The main gap in Cazelet’s learning, missile tactics, was something that–


          Daniel grinned.


          –Captain Leary was as well-suited to teach as anyone in the Academy.


          “That’s a penterio,” Cazelet said, pointing his extended left arm toward the ship farthest to the south in the ice stream. “None of them have been built since Santander rebelled against the Alliance a hundred and more years ago.”


Daniel raised his magnification. Penterios displaced about 500 tonnes and carried cargo externally on a spiderweb of spars and cables. That netting spread the vessel’s weight and kept her from sinking out of sight in the decades or longer in which she must have rested on the ice.


“I landed on Santander once,” Cazelet continued, “while I was purser on the Kelly Maid. It’s a thriving place now–in a small way, of course. It was re-colonized from Pleasaunce and Greenhome after the Reorganization which followed the Mutiny.”


          He turned toward Daniel; Daniel turned his head also, to meet the younger man’s eyes. Cazelet said, “The old culture was completely gone, of course. Not enough of the original population survived to maintain it.”


          “Yes,” said Daniel, looking down at the rerigging.


          He had learned when he was very young that it was a bad idea to discuss matters of academic interest to you with someone to whom they have great emotional weight. He was well aware of the brutality of the Alliance of Free Stars in dealing with what its leaders considered rebellion.


          Rene Cazelet, however, was an orphan because Guarantor Porra had decided his parents were a threat to the state. He had come to Adele as a suppliant, sent by his grandmother to whom Adele owed a debt of gratitude; and Adele had asked her friend Captain Leary to find a place for the boy.