The Road Of Danger – Snippet 24


          It’s still the right thing to say. Even sober, spacers were notoriously loose-tongued, and the chance of a spacer being sober on the first night or two of liberty wasn’t very high.


          “You’re the crew of a yacht owned by Kostroman noblewoman, the former Principal Hrynko,” Daniel said. “She looks a lot like Lady Adele Mundy, but you won’t call her that any more than you would the real Lady Mundy. You’ll say ‘ma’am’ or you’ll say ‘sir’ because she scares the crap out of you. She’s got a temper and you know how these wog nobles can carry on–“


          He grinned at Adele. She grinned, broadly for her, though she didn’t look up from her display. She had at least his face inset in the image area, along with those of the other officers.


          “–but she pays on time and the grub on the Hrynko is pretty bloody good. Just about RCN standard, I’d say.”


          There was general laughter at that, in the BDC and trailing down the corridor through the open hatchway. Private owners were notoriously liable to scrimp on the quantity and quality of the rations they provided their crews. An RCN captain checked the quality of all the consumables that came aboard, then signed his approval. A captain who cut corners on food or drink had problems not only with crew members–who knew the regulations–but with the Navy Board.


          “Mistress Vesey is captain,” Daniel said. His tone was cheery and bantering; handled clumsily, the situation could go from unfamiliar to frightening–a very small step for veteran spacers, who believed that surprises were either bad or fatal; as in space they generally were. “Principal Hrynko doesn’t know any more about astrogation than some high-born librarian from Xenos would.”


          The laughter was even louder this time. Adele continued to smile while her control wands twitched and jabbed. Daniel didn’t have the faintest idea what she was working at; it could be her family tree, for all he knew.


          He didn’t care. Adele said that everything was connected, and for her it was. Her mind was always working, a fact that regularly led to unexpected good results for those around her.


          “Now,” Daniel said, getting to the nub of it. “If you were any other crew than my Sissies, I’d tell you that this was going to be dangerous. We’ll be landing on Madison, an Alliance sector capital, claiming to be a Kostroman ship. Well, you and I have done worse than that to the Alliance, haven’t we, spacers?”


          The response this time was a bloodthirsty roar from the body of the ship, though the sound had been reduced to tinny echoes by the time it reached Daniel. Nobody inside the BDC actually cheered, though it wouldn’t have been a surprise if Fiducia and Rocker, the missileer’s mate and gunner’s mate respectively, had joined in.


          “But there’s something else you ought to know, spacers,” Daniel said, pitching his voice a little lower to suggest that he had reached the serious part of the discussion. “Admiral Cox doesn’t know what we’re about to do. He thinks we’re going straight to Sunbright, everybody in Macotta HQ thinks we’re going to Sunbright.”


          “Who bloody cares what the farmers out here think?” somebody shouted. Daniel thought the voice was Woetjans’, but if so she spoke for everybody aboard–Captain Daniel Leary included. Certainly the cheers seemed universal.


          In fact the tricky part was going to be keeping up the pretense of being Kostroman while they were on Madison. He’d slipped past that when he told the Sissies it was minor compared to what they’d done in the past.


          The deception wasn’t dangerous in the sense that the Alliance authorities would shoot them if the trick was detected, but it would certainly be embarrassing and might very well mean months or years of internment while diplomats discussed the matter in measured tones. Daniel didn’t imagine that the Macotta bureaucracy would strain itself in helping uppity naval personnel who’d come out from Xenos with an attitude.


          Very few of the Sissie‘s crew were from Kostroma, perhaps six or eight out of over a hundred. That in itself wouldn’t surprise Alliance port officials. Spacers were a nation unto themselves. That was less true of a warship’s complement than it was for civilian vessels, but even so no more than half the crew of the corvette Princess Cecile had been born on Cinnabar or worlds under the Republic’s hegemony.


          “Well, Sissies…,” Daniel said. “We’re going to come through this fine, like we have before, if we all do our jobs. This time for you that means mostly watching what you say when we’re on the ground. And for me, that means being Kirby Pensett, who used to be an RCN officer. Can we carry it off?”


          There were so many variations in the reply that they merged into a growl, but they all amounted to, “Yes!” generally with a word or words of emphasis.


          “Then for the last time until we’ve succeeded, let me say it’s an honor to command you, Sissies. Six out!”


          Over the cheers, Vesey’s amplified voice from the bridge said, “Captain to ship! Prepare for liftoff in thirty, that is three-zero seconds.”


          Unexpectedly she added, “Next stop Madison, spacers.”


          Daniel grinned. Vesey tended to seem colorless, and it wasn’t often that she raised a cheer. She got one this time.