The Road Of Danger – Snippet 38


          I’ll have to tell Daniel, Adele thought. Her interest in natural history had initially been academic, but she had so often listened to Daniel’s enthusiasm or looked things up for him that she was gaining an appreciation of the subject.


          Some of the creatures were fully visible on mats of the weed; others clung to the causeway’s pilings. One even scampered ahead of her along the railing, swaying its head and tail side to side to balance the thrust of its legs.


          A pair of office workers approached from the other direction, chatting to one another. The little animal rose on tiptoe, then hurled itself off the rail with its legs wind milling furiously. Its feet had bright scarlet webs. Perhaps they slowed the creature’s descent, because Adele heard only a gentle plop! as it hit the water.


          The Phoenix towered overhead as Adele approached. The ship was a sphere, a volume efficient design with a score of serious disadvantages which Adele knew from discussions with RCN officers. A ship even of this enormous size would today be cylindrical, but such globes had been common before the Hiatus.


          The Phoenix had brought ten thousand settlers to Madison, having kept them alive during a voyage of fourteen months. Adele smiled faintly. Alive, but probably not very happy.


          Well, Adele had endured conditions no better than those of the colonists during the years she lived in the slums of Blythe City on Bryce. Her teacher and mentor, Mistress Boileau, had done what she could, but not even the Director of the Academic Collections could arrange more than a minimal stipend for a Cinnabar citizen in the midst of all-out war between Cinnabar and the Alliance.


          The would-be colonists had hope before them; the orphan Adele Mundy had seen nothing better ahead of her except death. But things had become better after all, better for the person the real Adele was, than they would have been had her life gone in the track she had expected while she was growing up as the studious daughter of a powerful Cinnabar political leader.


          Adele had the whole RCN as a family, and she had Daniel Leary for a friend. Her father had had power, but he had neither friends nor family in the sense that Adele had come to understand the words.


          The artificial island around the Phoenix had been turned into a garden with walkways through its plantings. Adele thought, Daniel would know whether the trees are native species.


          She reached for her data unit, thinking, Well, all I have to do is find the catalogue of the garden’s holdings and compare it to the database of species native to Madison.


          She caught herself again. This time she came as close to laughing as she had done in weeks or longer. I’m not in competition with Daniel. If I decide that I have to compete with him, I should focus on a skill like clambering about the rigging. That would have some practical application.


          An aircar approached from the mainland side. Adele wasn’t particularly interested in vehicles, but she looked at this one, an enclosed gray six-place car, because it drove low and near the causeway. The only passenger sat behind the driver. He eyed Adele as he passed.


          If Tovera were here, Adele thought, she would step between me and the car–and she would have her hand on the sub-machine gun in her attaché case.


          Adele didn’t reach into her left tunic pocket, but she consciously didn’t reach into it. She wasn’t as paranoid as Tovera, but she knew that that she could get into that state very easily if she didn’t constantly fight the tendency.


          The aircar slowed and turned inward when it crossed the wall protecting the island. The causeway ended in a circular plaza from which narrow paths led into the garden while a broad one continued to the starship’s entrance. The pavement was probably synthetic, but it was patterned to mimic brick.


          The driver angled the car between two of the stone benches set around the perimeter of the plaza. It settled, and a guard at the entry port a hundred feet away shouted angrily.


          The driver idled his fans; the passenger, a short, tubby man, got out of the back and walked toward Adele. His hair was intensely black even over a swarthy complexion.


          The guard shouted again and started toward them; he wasn’t armed, so that wasn’t an immediate problem. Adele lifted her pistol; she didn’t bring it out of her pocket quite yet.


          “Lady Hrynko?” the little man called. He was twenty feet away and coming closer with short, quick steps. “I am Liber Osorio, the Cremonan trade attaché here on Madison. Can we go somewhere to discuss a business proposition?”


          “No,” said Adele. She thought for a moment. “If you’d care to sit on one of these benches, though–“


          She gestured with her right hand. Pedestrians were walking around them, and the guard was coming closer. He had taken a communicator out of its belt pocket.


          “–I’ll give you a few minutes.”


          Osorio turned and shouted to his driver, “Go to the other side of the water and wait for us.”


          The car lifted. It hovered for a moment, then obediently drove over the water toward the mainland side at a moderate pace.


          The benches were backless, slightly curved, and about six feet wide. She sat on the left end of closest and gestured Osorio toward the midpoint when he tried to sit closer to her.


          Adele said, “Before you tell me your proposition, Master Osorio, explain how you happened to meet me here.”


          Her hand was still in her pocket.