The Road Of Danger – Snippet 30


CHAPTER 8: Ashetown on Madison


          Daniel would be whistling if he felt like this, Adele thought as she pattered up the Sissie‘s companionway toward Level A and her console on the bridge. Tovera was ahead, though not even a paranoid sociopath like her servant wasn’t really worried about someone waiting ahead in the armored staircase to attack them.


          Adele didn’t regret her inability to whistle, but it pleased her that other people might have done so if they were as content as she was now. She wasn’t going to take off her clothes and dance up the stairs either.


          Though now that she thought about it, she had tossed “Principal Hrynko’s” gown behind her when she reached the entry hold. She probably ought to send someone back for it in case she was suddenly required to impersonate a Kostroman noblewoman. Well, one of the spacers would probably bring it up unasked; and if not, she would worry about it later.


          Adele had new data to pore over–and the promise of still more shortly. She planned to visit the Assumption Library this afternoon, as soon as she had set her systems working to harvest data from the Forty Stars Headquarters. She could justify going to the library–the Assumption was the  colony ship by which Madison had been settled before the thousand-year Hiatus in star travel–on reasons of duty, but in truth she was hoping to find ancient documents which had been lost to scholars on other worlds.


          Tovera led her into the rotunda just aft of the bridge. The forward dorsal airlock opened onto it, as well as the companionways. Nobody on a starship, not even the captain, used the wrong set of stairs. That was true even–indeed, especially–in an emergency, when people tangled in the tubes which were the only ways to get from one level to another would make disaster certain.


          Until Adele entered Cazelet, sitting at the astrogation console, was alone on the bridge. He was checking the communications intercepts which Adele had set her equipment to make in her absence. She supposed that was as useful as anything else the watch officer could do under the current placid conditions, and it was more Cazelet’s taste than reviewing crew discipline records or the rate of water usage during the past thirty days.


          “Mistress?” he said. Cazelet wasn’t much better than Adele herself in following protocol when addressing his fellows aboard the corvette. Like her, he was a well-born civilian who had not gone through the Academy. “There’s something interesting going on in orbit.”


          At the same moment, a sidebar on Adele’s display pulsed with a message in purple from Cory in the Battle Direction Center: Communications sweep indicates freighter being attacked in orbit, with an icon which would take her to the same input as the icon Cazelet had put on her sidebar after alerting her verbally.


          Adele felt more frustration than amusement. The young men were not twins, but her training seemed to have turned them into the professional equivalent of that. She wasn’t a martinet who hammered every peg into a hole of the same size!


          She brought the incident–it was still evolving–up on the left half of her display while she finished arranging to download the files from every database in the Alliance HQ, save for those in the Fleet Intelligence bureau. Years before she had developed a template for that task, so executing it on a new target was only a matter of making sure that the software was working as expected.


          The Princess Cecile had spent less than twelve hours on Cinnabar between arriving from Zenobia and lifting again for Kronstadt with orders issued and signed by the Navy Board. That was a sufficient interval for Mistress Sand’s messenger to give Adele updates for Alliance codes. Because of how far Madison was from Pleasaunce, the latest codes might not have reached the Forty Stars Squadron itself.


          Only when Adele had set her console to work did she switch her attention to what had her disciples excited. It had taken her thirty seconds to complete the initial task; while that could be the difference between life and death, anything could be the difference between life and death. It was worth a good deal to her to avoid the irritation she felt at being interrupted, and the choice of which task to do first was random on the information she had thus far.


          Cazelet’s icon sent Adele to a Plot-Position Indicator centered on Ashe Haven; two beads in orbit were highlighted, red and blue. As soon as she started to adjust the range of the image, it shrank to the minimum size needed to encompass both vessels. That was a degree of automated helpfulness which Adele neither needed nor wanted, but it wasn’t important enough to discuss at this moment.


          The blue dot was out-sun of the red dot; about 60,000 miles separated the two according to the scale. The display would give Adele a figure accurate within inches if she queried it, but that wasn’t necessary for her present purposes.


          A thin line the same color followed each dot, showing its track for the previous seventeen minutes; dotted lines–they hadn’t been visible at the original large scale–projected the vessels’ future courses, which were converging. Each dot was slugged with a full name rather than the usual three-letter identifier: blue was the Estremadura, red was the Sister Kate.


          “Estremadura, this is piracy!” said the Sister Kate. She was–full data on both ships had appeared twice on Adele’s sidebar–a 600 tonne freighter registered on Cremona, an independent world in The Funnel. It was the closest world to Sunbright in time of passage through the Matrix. “You have fired on a friendly vessel within a system belonging to the Alliance of Free Stars. You are pirates and I’m reporting this to Forty Stars Headquarters! Over.”