The Road Of Danger – Snippet 39


CHAPTER 10: West Ashetown


          “I didn’t mean to surprise you, Lady Hrynko,” Osorio said, smiling at Adele; he spread his hands to his sides to echo his mouth’s curve. “I had you watched so that I could speak with you without arousing the comment which would ensue were I to visit your yacht, that is all. I must say–“


          He gestured toward her, probably meaning to indicate her simple costume.


          “–I wasn’t expecting to find you alone.”


          “I am incognito,” Adele snapped. “I am here to bathe my soul in the artifacts of Ancient Man!”


          She couldn’t imagine a real Kostroman Principal saying that, but she had been on Kostroma long enough to have seen equally–if differently–eccentric behavior among the clan leaders. She thought it would sound bizarre but believable to Osorio; which appeared to be the case.


          “You are clearly a person of great refinement, Lady Hrynko,” the little man said, dipping in a seated bow. “As I said, I am my planet’s trade representative here, a position which requires a relatively coarse outlook. I ask your pardon for that. But–“


          He gestured to the sides again. His smile made Adele want to slap him.


          “–I too have a spiritual side. I dream of a free Sunbright. I am one of a group of like-minded souls on Cremona who are working to help the citizens of Sunbright throw off the yoke of Alliance domination. We hope that you will be willing to aid us–for a fair price, I emphasize. You are a stranger in this region and cannot be expected to care about the hopes of us and our neighbors.”


          Adele didn’t speak for a moment. I shouldn’t be offended by this–he believes I’m who I claim to be, after all. But does he think I’m brain damaged or a child?


          Aloud she said, “You’re talking nonsense. If you have a proposal consistent with my honor, make it. Otherwise….”


          She sniffed and let her voice trail off.


          Osorio bowed at the waist again. “Yes, of course, Your Ladyship,” he said equably. “We Friends of Sunbright are Cremonese citizens who have banded together to provide supplies to the Sunbright freedom fighters. The Alliance Funnel Squadron attempts to capture our ships–our ships and those of like-minded shippers–over Sunbright, but this is a difficult task and the blockaders are rarely successful. You understand this, Your Ladyship?”


          He must think that I’m a moron, Adele marveled silently. Or else he has a lower opinion of foreigners than even Hogg does.


          She sniffed again. Kostroma was a far more sophisticated place than anything she had heard about Cremona.


          “Yes, I understand,” Adele said. “Explain what that has to do with me?”


          “Now, most of the ships and supplies running the Sunbright blockade,” Osorio said, “come through Madison here even though they make the final approach from Cremona. Madison is a major trading world; we on Cremona do not have either the industry or the volume of shipping to supply the materials needed by the freedom fighters.”


          Or to broker the Pink Rice, Adele thought. Cremona didn’t have a planetary government so much as it did a club in which members of a criminal gang got together to brag and to discuss further banditry.


          “Why doesn’t the Funnel administration discuss the matter with their colleagues here on Madison?” Adele said, helping to keep things moving along. “Surely if the Forty Stars Squadron cooperates with the Funnel Squadron, they can end their problem easily. They can end your blockade running, that is.”


          Osorio tried to laugh lightly, but Adele was pleased to hear an underlying note of strain. Granted that the fellow wasn’t patronizing Lady Mundy, she still found his attitude irritating.


          Was there any adult too stupid to realize that the Friends of Sunbright were profiteers who were getting rich by supplying the rebels? If the Alliance forces had needed arms, the Friends would willingly have supplied them. The bloodshed was of no concern to them.


          Adele shrugged. The bloodshed didn’t particularly concern her either. She had shed a fair amount of it herself over the years.


          “Mistress?” Osorio said in confusion.


          “I was thinking of something else,” Adele said, regretting that she had allowed her expression to change, a visible warning. “I was thinking that fighting, whether for freedom or not, is likely to lead to death.”


          Her lips–barely–smiled. “But since everything leads to death,” she said, “that doesn’t matter, does it?”


          “Ah…,” Osorio said. He cleared his throat and said, “Well. You were asking about the Forty Stars Squadron cooperating with the Funnel blockade. This will not happen. The authorities hate each other! Sector Administrator Braun here is pleased to see the trouble Kolpach of the Funnel is having. But there is a better reason!”


          “Go on,” Adele said. The Cremonan attaché had already given the correct reason–regional rivalry–for why the Forty Stars government winked at local support of the Sunbright rebels. It was beyond her how any reason could seem better than the true one, but she had long ago learned that most people seemed to have a different opinion on the matter.


          “Cinnabar is behind the rebellion!” Osorio said with his usual heavy-handed emphasis. “No, I don’t mean just that Cinnabar sent one of its top secret agents to lead the rebellion under the name Freedom. I mean that the Cinnabar Navy intelligence section on Kronstadt has planned the whole thing. They set up the supply network before the rebellion started and they provided enough weapons to make the initial stages practical. It was anti-ship missiles which made the first raid at Tidy possible!”