The Road Of Danger – Snippet 25


CHAPTER 7: Ashetown on Madison


          Daniel walked down the Harborfront wearing mottled gray utilities without any markings. A veteran might recognized them as RCN in cut and color, but in dim light they would be indistinguishable from the Fleet’s gray-green or from similar garments worn by spacers all over the human universe. The clothing wasn’t a statement of allegiance, though it did imply his profession.


          That would have been a safe bet anyway. Most people at the waterside of a spaceport were spacers or had been spacers.


          “Ah, young master,” Hogg said in a falsely righteous tone as he viewed the storefronts. “What sinks of iniquity! How I long for the good clean air behind the pig styes back at Bantry.”


          “You’re being unjust to the establishments, Hogg,” Daniel said, pursing his lips judiciously. They were looking for the Miltiades Hotel, where the offices of Calpurnius Trading were located.


          The Grand Hotel Pleasaunce was to their right, a three-story establishment with a shipchandler and a jewelry store on the ground floor. “They’re quite upscale, it seems to me. Now, if we were to wander down an alley, that might be another thing altogether.”


          Though the air did have an unpleasant pong; indeed, Daniel would almost call it a texture. It didn’t have anything to do with depravity, however. At a guess, the algae on the surface of the harbor included something that fixed sulfur, which became hydrogen sulfide at the touch of plasma exhaust.


          The patches of virulent yellow which floated among the greens and browns were a good candidate for the culprit. Chances were it was an off-planet species which had travelled through the Matrix on a starship’s floats and now was adapting to Madison. Viewed in the right way, it was an uplifting story of triumph over adversity.


          “Well, anyway it don’t half stink!” said Hogg, completing the thought which his master hadn’t spoken aloud. Daniel chuckled.


          Small boats lined the seafront. The naval harbor had concrete slips, but the commercial side of Ashetown Haven used floating walkways and docks–The House of Hrynko was tied up to one–or, for the majority of traffic, anchorages at pilings in the open roadstead with lighters and water taxis to reach dry land.


          “And here we are, I believe,” said Daniel, nodding to the building across the intersecting street–Fifth Street, according to the sign suspended on cables in the middle of the intersection. The wicker railing of the second floor balcony was woven to read MILTIADES HOTEL in brown letters against cream; above the tile roof were steps to a miniature widow’s walk.


          The wall of the building’s ground floor was pale orange stucco with CALPURNIUS TRADING in florid black letters, and Contractors and Purveyors in smaller script beneath them. There were no windows, only a heavy door which was held open by a doorstop on the form of a bronze dog.


          As Daniel started across the street, a handful of ragged boys rushed toward him, crying, “Spare change, Captain, spare change!”


          “Sorry, lads, I’m on the beach my–” Daniel started to say. There was a loud Whap! and a cry behind him. He looked over his shoulder to see another boy staggering away, bent over and holding his left ear.


          Hogg picked up the shears the boy had dropped; he had been reaching out to cut the straps of Daniel’s belt wallet. Hogg clenched and opened his other hand, working feeling back into his fingers; he’d slapped the boy instead of using his fist. From his own youthful experience, Daniel knew that such blows felt like those of a wooden bat.


          Hogg twisted the shears till the steel snapped, then dropped the pieces behind him. “Cheeky little sods,” he growled. “Did they think I’m blind? Or my arm’s crippled?”


          The other boys had vanished like mist as the sun rose. “Not any more, I’m sure,” Daniel said, and he stepped into the premises of Calpurnius Trading.


          Three young male clerks were at desks behind the counter to the left. A capable-looking middle-aged woman sat to the right of the doorway. Her console had come from a starship, probably a passenger liner of the previous century. Even as old as that, an astrogation computer was more than sufficient for any planet-bound task. The back wall was wooden with two doors; both were closed.


          “Yes, gentlemen?” the woman said. Daniel hadn’t seen her send a signal, but an interior door opened and two men came out.


          “I’m Kirby Pensett, late of the RCN,” Daniel said, withdrawing an identification chip from his belt pouch. “That name doesn’t mean anything to you, but I’m here as representative of Bernhard Sattler, whom you do know. I’m to speak either to Mistress Sysco or Master Bremington.”


          “Why has Bernhard sent an agent?” said the older, better dressed, of the two men. His companion looked like a stevedore. “Are you here to inspect us, is that what you mean?”


          “Master Bremington?” Daniel said. “I’m here to inspect Master Sattler’s investment. Which is significant enough to justify inspection–in my opinion, but much more importantly, in his. Do you have a problem with this?”


          “He’s who he says he is, Picque,” said the woman, who had inserted Daniel’s chip into her console. “Look, we’ve got nothing to hide. If Bernhard wants to look things over, I guess I don’t blame him.”


          Bremington made a sour face. “Well, I suppose I can’t complain that Sattler didn’t give us warning,” he said. “And of course, we don’t have anything to hide. That is….”


          He paused and gave Daniel a concerned look.