The Road Of Danger – Snippet 28


          “I see,” Quinley said in a neutral voice. He shrank his holographic display–it had been merely a haze of light to any eyes but his–and looked at Adele. He said, “I’ve reviewed the records, Lady Hrynko. So far as I can see, there’s no reason you couldn’t have let the port authorities handle the clearance in the normal course of business. That might take a day or two, but since you’re the owner but not the listed captain, your employees could have made the declarations without troubling you.”


          Adele raised her head slightly so that she was speaking down her nose at the deputy controller. It was acting, of course, but her mother had been a very good role model for this sort of thing.


          “I should let flunkies come aboard my yacht?” she said. “Even if I am on emeritus status, I am owed the honors of a Principal of Kostroma!”


          “As you wish, Your Ladyship,” Quinley said equably. He brought up his display again, then narrowed it to a single column so that he could meet Adele’s eyes.


          “Since I’m acting as clearance officer, Your Ladyship,” he said, “I’m curious about the size of your crew. One hundred and fifteen effectives would be heavy even for a warship the size of your yacht. Why is that, please?”


          When Adele didn’t respond instantly, Quinley added, “I’m officially curious, that is. An answer is a requirement of your presence on Madison.”


          Not at all a pompous nonentity, Adele thought, pleased at the realization. She liked to meet competent people, even in cases where her job would have been simpler if they were like the dullards who vastly outnumbered them.


          Aloud she said toward the corner of the ceiling, “Should the Principal Hrynko allow a booby from Vitebsk–“


          She had recognized the deputy controller’s accent.


          “–to question her motives? But no matter.”


          Adele met Quinley’s eyes again; he had flushed at the reference to his origins. “I explained,” she continued, “that I was Emeritus; that is, that my stepson guides Hrynko in my place. I considered becoming Elector of Kostroma but decided that the position was unworthy of me in the final analysis. Elector Cargill, who took the position when I renounced it, arranged a pension for me sufficient to support my love of travel.”


          Anyone with a feeling for politics would hear Adele’s statement as an admission that Principal Hrynko had lost the struggle to rule her planet but that she retained enough power that the victor had preferred to buy her off instead of carrying the fight to the end. From the way Quinley relaxed, he certainly heard it that way.


          Adele turned her hands palms-up. “I have chosen to invest part of my pension in safeguarding my person,” she said. “Instead of spending larger sums to ransom myself from the pirates who infest many of the regions in which I may travel. Should anyone question my judgment?”


          Quinley smiled, then touched a keyboard control. “I certainly don’t question it, Your Ladyship,” he said. “I’ve cleared your yacht. Enjoy your stay on Madison.”


          The aide had been standing across the doorway from Tovera. “Wycherson,” he said. “Please show her Ladyship out.”


          Adele followed the aide down the corridor at a stately pace. There was nothing more to do here, but rushing off to check what her data unit had gathered would threaten the pose of aristocratic foolishness which she had taken pains to cultivate. Patience was always a virtue, and here it was a necessary one.


          “Feel free to call on us, Your Ladyship,” the aide called as she held the entrance door open for “the Kostromans.” Adele swept past without deigning to look at her.


          Woetjans shouted an order, but the Sissies were already sorting themselves out. There were different spacers on the litter poles; this time they were techs from the ship side rather than riggers. It appeared that even the Bosun had decided that the riggers’ individual initiative wasn’t the best choice for teamwork on the ground after all.


          Adele waited until they had lifted the litter before she took out her data unit; through sheer effort of will she waited till they had paced a block back in the direction of the yacht before she switched on the display. Tovera walked alongside instead of being ahead with Woetjans.


          Adele looked at her servant. She would have spoken, but a ship lifted from the roadstead just then. Though the vessel was small and a mile offshore, its three plasma thrusters hammering at full output were loud enough that she would have had either to shout or to speak through the earbud, in which case Tovera could not have responded.


          When the sound had died away, Tovera looked up and said, “Mistress?”


          “Most of the departments might as well be without any security at all,” Adele said. “Which I suspect means that there will be nothing to help us in their files.”


          Tovera shrugged. “The exercise was healthy, I suppose,” she said.


          The techs moved more smoothly by far than the riggers had; with a little practice they would probably become quite good at the business. Though if Adele never had to ride on a litter again, it would be too soon.


          Aloud Adele said, “I said ‘most of the departments,’ Tovera. The exception was Fleet Intelligence, which seems to be walled off securely.”


          Tovera frowned, a momentary parochial irritation overcoming her usual detachment. “The 5th Bureau didn’t have a high opinion of Fleet Intelligence,” she said, making her opinion impersonal in form.


          “No,” said Adele, “nor do I–in general. Since the 40 Stars detachment is such an exception, I think I’d better learn more about the Commander Rudolph Doerries, who runs it.”