The Road Of Danger – Snippet 26

 

          Daniel spread his hands. “I’m here on Master Sattler’s behalf,” he said. “If it may be that some port duties or the like didn’t get paid, that’s something for a government to worry about–not me. I would say that so long as the profits are being shared properly, then anything that benefits the company, benefits Master Sattler.”

 

          Bremington gave Daniel a slight smile, the first break in hostility since he entered the lobby. “Come on back to my office,” he said, “and after we’ve talked for a moment, I’ll set you up with a console and full access codes.”

 

          He cleared his throat and added, “We’d have gone bust seven years ago if Bernhard hadn’t raised our capitalization. I’d cheat my mother before I’d cheat him.”

 

          “Thank you, Master Bremington,” Daniel said with a half-bow. With a deeper bow to the woman, he added, “And thank you, mistress.”

 

          “I’ll just wander around, if that’s all right with you, sir,” said Hogg. The words were more respectful than the tone in which he spoke them.

 

          Daniel followed Bremington down a short hallway. Before the door behind him closed, he heard Hogg said, “I wonder, mistress, if there’s a place nearby that a poor man might find a drink and a game of poker?”

 

***

 

          The pale russet robe Adele wore in her guise as Principal Hrynko felt unfamiliar but not uncomfortable. She wore khaki utilities beneath it, and the rigger who had run it up for her had placed long vertical slits along the sides as directed. Through them she could reach her pistol or her data unit as easily as she could have normally.

 

          “Hallelujah, I’m a bum!” her escort chorused. She wasn’t sure how the Alliance staff would to react to the details of her escort, but she suspected no one on Madison except her had more than a passing acquaintance with Kostroman nobility. “Hallelujah, bum again!

 

          Techs had built Adele’s litter from high pressure tubing and bats of insulation. Covered with ribbons and bunting from the ship’s stores, it was flashy enough to appeal to any real Kostroman. Spacers felt that the more decoration, the better; a taste shared by most cultures once you got past the sophisticates of Xenos and Pleasaunce City.

 

          Adele’s data unit was already operating in passive mode, gathering inputs according to the instructions Adele had programmed before she left the ship. She didn’t suppose she’d need the pistol at Forty Stars Sector Headquarters, but there had been unpleasant surprises in the past. They had been less unpleasant because she had been able to shoot her way out of trouble.

 

          They’d reached the plaza in front of the Alliance Building. Adele said, “Set me down here.”

 

          Tovera was ahead of the litter, walking with Woetjans at the side of the ragged column. She took the command through her earbud and spoke crisply though inaudibly to the Bosun.

 

          “Hallelujah, give us a handout–“

 

          “Halt!” Woetjans shouted. Some of the locals–loungers in the portico as well as those entering or leaving the entrance on business–leaped to the side in surprise; spacers laughed at them.

 

          Three of the four riggers carrying the litter started to put it down. The last was a moment behind the others, with the result that Adele would have pitched out onto the flagstones if she hadn’t grabbed the stringers with both hands.

 

          Riding with Hogg has sharpened my instincts, she thought. Perhaps if I live another fifty years, I’ll rise to the level of Landsman in the opinion of my shipmates.

 

          Woetjans had suggested that riggers carry the litter because their job required them to be agile. They weren’t used to working as this sort of team, however, and marching in step wasn’t part of any spacer’s training. The twenty Sissies accompanying Adele each wore a russet sash over the right shoulder to indicate that they were Hrynko retainers, but beyond that they were as disparate a group as you could find.

 

          They didn’t carry real weapons, but they had clubs of various sorts. That was normal practice on Kostroma, and it wouldn’t have raised eyebrows for a member of the nobility in Xenos. Nobody expected a Senator’s daughter to be jostled in the street by laborers. The Alliance authorities here might object, but they wouldn’t be surprised to see it.

 

          Adele stepped out of the litter, feeling thankful. She had–reasonably–felt on the verge of disaster all during the procession from the Harborfront. It might very well have been that a member of the escort would have caught her if the litter-bearers had flung her out, since they’d learned to be alert on the Princess Cecile lest Mistress Mundy fall or drift into serious trouble. Nonetheless, it had been an uncomfortable sensation.

 

          The whole escort moved toward the double doors of the entrance, several of them sliding pipes or batons from under their belts. A pair of slender, fortyish women in blue uniforms were leaving the building. They saw the oncoming gang and turned back inside with startled chirps.

 

          Adele opened her mouth to object, but Woetjans was already bellowing, “Dasi, Barnes, and Creighton only, you wankers, just like I said! Any of you who can’t obey orders can spend their liberty polishing thruster nozzles! Yes, I mean you, Hatchett.”

 

          Adele stared coldly at the confusion, her natural expression under the circumstances. Spacers slunk away from the door and gathered around the litter, tucking away cudgels or in the case of one technician, a knife that he shouldn’t have been carrying.