The Road Of Danger – Snippet 37


          When the local had grasped Adele’s shoulder with the apparent intention of pulling her out, Adele had rapped the woman’s front teeth with the muzzle of her pistol. The woman had toppled backward with a shriek, spilling potatoes and unfamiliar fruit on the street around her.


          The jitney started off, accelerating more slowly than a child on a tricycle. Adele put the pistol back into her pocket. The other passengers didn’t give her more room–they couldn’t–but they were obviously straining not to crowd her any more than they had to.


          The local woman had been lucky. If Tovera had been present, she would have informed the woman that her behavior was discourteous. In all likelihood, the method Tovera used would have been less delicate than what Adele chose.


          The jitney was approaching the western edge of the city. Instead of tenements, houses stood on their own lots with tall trees growing between them; deeper forest hung as a curtain beyond the dwellings. Flying creatures with translucent pastel wings fluttered out of the treetops, floated for a few moments in the sunlight, and disappeared into the foliage again.


          The jitney stopped. The driver turned in his saddle and said to the four remaining passengers, “This is as far out as I’m going. Get off or go back with me.”


          “You said you would take me to West Slough,” Adele said.


          “Well, I was wrong,” the driver said. “Get off or go back, you hear?”


          The man who had been standing beside Adele when she moved inside the vehicle now leaned forward and whispered something to the driver. The driver said, “What?


          He stared at Adele for a moment, then faced around and continued westward down the street. The jitney accelerated much more quickly with a reduced load.


          About the distance of three blocks later–there was only one connecting street, a mud lane that made a Tee intersection with the main road–the jitney reached what Adele supposed was West Slough. The driver pulled around in a half-circle and stopped; he studiously avoided turning to look at Adele as she and her fellow passengers got off.


          Well, she hadn’t wanted to have a discussion with him. She walked to the pilings on the waterside and looked at her surroundings.


           From orbital imagery Adele knew that the “slough” was actually a resaca, a loop of the river cut off when the channel shifted west. The Phoenix of Assumption, the colony ship which made the initial settlement on Madison, had landed here rather than in the ocean a few miles south, and Port Madison had grown up nearby.


          The river had changed course during the thousand-year Hiatus following the war between Earth and her principal colonies. When star travel resumed on Madison, the port had been relocated to an artificial harbor on the ocean; and Ashetown had shifted south as well. What remained was called West Ashetown, but most of the original warehouses and tenements had sunk into the muck.


          The colony ship remained, however, as a museum and a library of Pre-Hiatus documents on a man-made island created by a coffer dam. A causeway connected the island to this shore, and a few water taxis were tied to bollards along the waterfront for those who needed to cross the resaca; occasionally the mist cleared and Adele glimpsed buildings on the other side.


          To Adele’s surprise, the development along the waterside wasn’t merely a slum, though there were a number of wooden hovels which would have looked abandoned were it not for ragged people sprawling in doorways or against the walls. There were several apartment blocks of plasticized earth, their ground floors given over to shops and restaurants, and a certain amount of light industry as well. A metal-roofed shed to the right was a repair garage which sheltered several partly-disassembled vehicles; glimpsed in a blurred fashion through the mist to the left was a barge drawn up to a large building.


          Adele had found reference to some regional offices being moved to compartments on the Phoenix. They were apparently funding a renaissance of sorts for the neighborhood.


          She started across the causeway. It had recently been repaired by pouring a sheet of some synthetic onto the gravel surface. Adele reached for her data unit, then decided to leave it in its pocket, she continued on. She would check when she was within the ship and had a dry place to sit.


          She was wearing a nondescript business suit. Her only concession to her supposed Kostroman nobility was that the fabric was russet with thin black piping on the seams of the jacket, the colors of the House of Hrynko.


          She had considered going with an escort as she had to the Sector Headquarters, but she didn’t want to attract attention and she did want to think. The chatter of a dozen Sissies wouldn’t have disturbed her, but the feeling of responsibility for them would have been a serious problem.


          Adele had too much experience now to doubt the kind of trouble which bored spacers were likely to get into. Escorting spacers were certainly going to be bored as they waited on a mudbank while the mistress indulged her love of old books.


          Animals squeaked, shrilled, and boomed from the vegetation at the water’s edge and covering the shallows to a distance out from the shore. The creatures ranged down in size from the length of Adele’s palm and extended fingers to smaller than her thumb joint, but they were all on the same pattern: lizard-like bodies with powerful hind legs and pipe-stem arms which they folded against their torsos except when snatching food.