The Road Of Danger – Snippet 23


          The attitude of the enlisted personnel, including Woetjans and Pasternak, was simpler yet: they were peasants, and Lady Mundy was mistress of the estate. That bore no resemblance to proper RCN protocol, and it certainly wasn’t anything Adele encouraged.


          She admitted to herself that she didn’t mind the situation, however. She had been raised as a Mundy of Chatsworth, and the Sissies’ behavior fitted her instinctive sense of rightness as surely as it did the crew’s.


          “We did an all-spectrum scan of the region as we were coming in,” Cory said. “This is the valley on ground-penetrating radar, so it’s without the ice, you see. Ships show up–“


          Beads expanded one after another, just long enough to be identified as shapes in steel before Cory shrank them back to scale.


          “–on the surface. Where the ice flow has carried them into one wall of the valley or the other, there’s scrape marks in the rock.”


          His hands poised on his virtual keyboard, preparing to raise the magnification of striations upstream of the bead slugged Hepplewhite, out of Kossuth. Adele had already done that with her wands. She didn’t need to see the markings–that was equivalent to proving the existence of gravity so far as she was concerned–but it was useful to remind Cory that she hadn’t become a completely helpless ninny.


          Aloud she said, “Yes, I see.”


          “Well, that’s all what you’d expect,” Cory said earnestly. “Except for this one.”


          He expanded the highlighted bead until it filled the display. It was a ball formed from pentagonal plates. “Ma’am, this is on the valley floor, under three hundred feet of ice. It displaces about 3,000 tons, and there’s no ship in the Sissie‘s database that looks anything like it.”


          “It sank through the ice, then?” Adele said, frowning. She restrained her reflex to sort for dodecahedral spaceships, because her conscious intellect assured her that Cory wouldn’t have made a mistake when he told her that. He had been well trained.


          “Ma’am, maybe,” Cory said, but the anguish in his tone meant that he was contradicting her. “But if you look at the scrape marks behind her–“


          This time he didn’t try to magnify them. Adele’s wands flickered, expanding and following the track up the valley; a very long way up the valley.


          “If the ice has been moving at the rate it has for the last twelve years–figuring from the marks the Manzanita Maid left–and I know it maybe hasn’t, but anyway that’s a figure, it ought to get us into the right order of magnitude….”


          “Yes, I see that, Cory,” Adele said. “Get on with it.”


          “Well, the track computes to about 30,000 years,” Cory said apologetically. “Which the model says is about when the planet’s orbit got eccentric because a dark star passed through the system.”


          “In other words, the ice began pushing–“


          She decided not to call it a ship.


          “–the object as soon as the glacier formed 30,000 years ago. That doesn’t tell us how long it had been sitting on the valley floor before it started to move.”


          “Yes, ma’am,” Cory said in relief. “That’s what I thought too. But I don’t know how it could be.”


          Adele sniffed; another person might have laughed. “Nor do I, Cory,” she said. “It should be possible to answer some of the questions by melting the glacier with our plasma thrusters, as we’ll be doing to fill our tanks of reaction mass, though of course on a much greater scale. But–“


          She rotated her seat to face the young lieutenant; he was staring over his shoulder at her.


          “–I think that will have to wait until we have more time. At present, we have to find a rebel to repatriate to Cinnabar.”


          There was a clang against the hull and a cheer from outside loud enough to be heard even though the corvette was closed up against the bitter wind. It appeared that the Princess Cecile was now the House of Hrynko. They would be lifting shortly.




          “Fellow Sissies!” Daniel said from one of the star of five consoles in the Battle Direction Center. He was speaking to the whole ship, his image appearing on all displays and his voice coming through commo helmets and the loudspeakers in every compartment and corridor. “You’ve all known something was going on. This is what is going on.”


          Vesey would normally have been here in the armored BDC as First Lieutenant, ready to take command if a missile destroyed the bridge. Now she was at the command console in the bow and Cory, the new First Lieutenant, had moved back.


          “I’m about to become Kirby Pensett,” Daniel said. “Formerly a lieutenant in the RCN but now on half-pay and a passenger on this vessel, The House of Hrynko. That’s the story, and it’s bloody important that you remember it when you’re talking to outsiders. Talking even to each other, because we never know who’ll be listening in when we’re on the ground.”


          Tovera, like Hogg on a jumpseat folded out from the bulkhead, glanced at Adele with a reptilian smile. Adele, seated at the console to Daniel’s right, was probably aware of her servant’s amusement–nobody was going to eavesdrop on the Princess Cecile when Adele was aboard–but she gave no reaction herself.