The Road Of Danger – Snippet 34


          “I can bring my own rations,” Daniel said mildly. “And I’ve never been aboard a ship which couldn’t have used another pair of skilled hands when things got hairy. As they’re pretty sure to do now and again for a blockade runner.”


          He was beginning to suspect that Petrov’s problem wasn’t with Daniel as a rival spacer but rather with him as a rival man. There wasn’t any polite way for Daniel to say that he wasn’t interested in Mistress Lindstrom’s favors, regardless of the wishes of the lady herself.


          “You really can run a fusion bottle, Pensett?” Lindstrom said, her eyes narrowing. She glanced at Petrov and said, “Look, Peter, I’m all right with the bottle so long as everything’s running normally, but I’m not a trained tech. We could be deep in the muck if we’re over Sunbright with a cruiser bearing down on us the next time she starts running high so I have to shut down.”


          “We’ll be all right!” Petrov said. “We’ve been all right!”


          “A Power Room certificate is required for commissioning in the RCN, Mistress Lindstrom,” Daniel said. “As I’m sure you know. I’m not an engineer, but I can tease a fusion bottle back into the green without shutting her down.”


          “Look–” Petrov began.


          “No, you look, Peter,” Lindstrom said, turning toward her astrogator with a flash of anger. “We can–I can, this is my ship–use another hand with the rigging. There’s so many splices that we’re bound to have as many cable jams as we did on the last run. Besides which–“


          Petrov had opened his mouth again to speak. Lindstrom stuck a blunt, capable finger in his face and continued in a louder voice, “Besides which, I bloody need help with the bottle! Pensett ships with us and that’s final. Do you understand?”


          Presumably Petrov did, because he sneered and walked off the ship past Daniel. His soft boots–they were standard spacers’ boots, intended to be worn inside rigging suits–wouldn’t bang on the catwalk, but he certainly tried.


          “We’ll be lifting in forty-eight hours,” Lindstrom said, “but get your traps aboard tomorrow. I’ll introduce you to the crew then, and you can go over the setup. There’s nothing unusual if you’ve sailed in ships this small before.”


          “I have,” said Daniel, “and smaller. But one thing, mistress? My man Hogg–“


          Hogg had done a remarkable job of keeping his mouth shut. Now he straightened and seemed to be trying to stand at attention. Even sober and as cleaned up as he was ever likely to be, he would look like a rumpled countryman. The attempt was either sad or amusing, depending on the observer.


          “–is an important part of my researches for Master Sattler. I’ll pay–“


          “Is he a spacer?” Lindstrom said curtly.


          “Sure, I am!” Hogg said.


          Daniel would have backed the lie if he’d thought there was any chance of it succeeding. Starting with Hogg’s heavy boots, he was as unlikely a spacer as he was a striptease dancer.


          “No, mistress,” Daniel said firmly, “but he’s a bloody useful man to have around for any number reasons. And Master Sattler will pay passenger-liner rates for bare food and passage.”


          Lindstrom shook her head. “No,” she said. “Having you aboard is stretching accommodations, but it’s short runs to Cremona and then to Sunbright. I won’t have another body, though, and that’s flat.”


          Daniel had seen Lindstrom angry, and he didn’t intend to turn her anger on himself pointlessly. He wasn’t going to change her mind–and he didn’t really disagree with her. A small blockade runner wasn’t a place for extra bodies.


          Hogg must have reached the same conclusion, because there was desperation in his voice as he said, “Look, ma’am, you won’t know I’m there! I swear, I’ll be as quiet as the ship’s cat, I swear it!”


          “Got anything on for tonight, Pensett?” the woman said as though Hogg hadn’t spoken. “I’ve got a room in the Criterion; I don’t sleep on the ship while there’s a choice. I thought we might have dinner and a drink, then go over your duties?”


          “Thank you, sir,” said Daniel with false enthusiasm, “but I have preparations to make tonight. Perhaps another time, though!”


          He grinned brightly. He thought, But no time in this lifetime, I hope.


          He touched his servant on the shoulder, then used firmer contact to turn him away. “Come on, Hogg,” he said. “Let’s get outside of a drink or ten, shall we.”


          Hogg shuffled across the catwalk like a sheep in the slaughter chute. When they had reached the other side, Daniel guided the older man toward one of the smaller, darker taverns on the other side of the Harborfront.


          Hogg turned to look at Daniel. “Lad,” he said quietly. “I didn’t try to wrap you in gauze, you know that. But I wouldn’t have let you try to fly from the top of a cloudscraper pine either.”


          “Now, it’s not as bad as that, Hogg,” Daniel said, trying to sound cheerful.


          “Yes, it bloody well is!” Hogg said. “You and that Petrov won’t both reach Cremona alive. Since you won’t stab him in the back, that means betting on you to survive is a sucker’s bet.”


          “It’ll look different when we’ve wet our throats, Hogg,” Daniel said.


          But in his heart, he wasn’t finding much wrong with his servant’s assessment.