The Road Of Danger – Snippet 43

 

          He had been speaking toward the pickup. He lowered his eyes to sweep them over the audience with him in the hold.

 

          “–I need not tell you that I expect you to do your duty by Captain Vesey and by the RCN. You’re my Sissies; of course you’re going to do your duty!”

 

          There was another babble of cheers and laughter. Daniel smiled until it cleared, then said, “Until we meet again, fellow spacers!”

 

          As the crew cheered, Adele leaned closer to Daniel and lifted onto her toes to speak into his ear. “May I address them?” she asked.

 

          “Of course,” he said with a raised eyebrow. He turned toward the pickup again and raised his hands. “Fellow spacers!” he cried.

 

          The audience quieted; at first slowly, but then with a rush to near silence.

 

          “Her Ladyship wishes to address you,” Daniel said, sweeping his right hand toward Adele. He was grinning, probably at his pun on her civilian rank and the persona she had adopted for this mission.

 

          Adele fixed her eyes on the pickup. She was used to communicating through electronics; used to the process and comfortable with it.

 

          “Fellow spacers,” she said. She would never be an orator. Her father had been a brilliant speaker, a man whose verbal skills had carried him high in the Republic… though ultimately to the top of Speaker’s Rock.

 

          “Captain–Six, that is, Six–is depending on us,” she continued, picking the words carefully. She could not afford to be mistaken. She knew that people often heard tone, not words; but they had to hear, to believe, her words; for Daniel’s sake and for their own. “He has put Captain Vesey in command of the ship, because he has implicit confidence that she is the best suited to support him.”

 

          Adele coughed into her hand. She knew that Vesey wouldn’t like what she was about to hear, but Adele was going to say it anyway.

 

          “Now,” she said aloud, “I know that everyone in a crisis would do anything Six ordered without hesitating. But some of you might think, ‘That can’t be right,’ when Captain Vesey tells you to jump. Don’t let that happen, on your lives.”

 

          Daniel was watching her, his face unusually quiet. There was no disapproval in his expression; just a sort of alert calm.

 

          “If members of this crew endanger the life of Six–“

 

          Adele nodded toward Daniel.

 

          “–by hesitation or inattention to orders,” Adele said, “they will answer to me. It will be a very short meeting, and their last. On my oath as a Mundy.”

 

          There was silence in the compartment for a moment; a literally breathless hush, because the spacers seemed literally afraid to breathe. Suddenly Dasi shouted, “Count on us, ma’am!”

 

          To Adele’s utter amazement, Sissies started cheering. All of them were cheering! What was there to cheer about? She had just warned them that she would kill anybody who failed Daniel–and they knew she meant it.

 

          Daniel touched her arm, then bent close. “They had been told that Vesey speaks for me,” he said. “Now they really know it, more clearly than they would from anything I could say.”

 

          Adele grimaced. She didn’t understand human beings, probably because she wasn’t one herself. Even when she got it right–as she appeared to have done this time–she did so for the wrong reasons.

 

          “Ma’am?” said someone. She looked up. Dasi had stretched out his hand, but he’d stopped short of touching her sleeve.

 

          Before Adele could snap harshly because of her discomfort at the situation, she saw that the rigger’s other hand pointed out toward the quay where a black utility vehicle had just pulled up. Tovera was driving.

 

          Adele glanced at her outfit. She had intended to change into something gray or blue, but this dull russet would do.

 

          “Daniel,” she said, “I have business which doesn’t concern the ship.”

 

          Without waiting for a response, she walked down the boarding ramp and across the gangplank without a slip or a wobble. She was in a different mindset now.

 

          She walked around the van and got in the passenger side. It was a ground vehicle whose small wheels were mounted on four trucks. From the singing of the motor, it was a diesel. As soon as she got in, Tovera made a hard turn and started off.

 

          “This looks very much like the van we saw,” Adele said, comparing the present vehicle with the imagery of the one which delivered the street children.

 

          “Yes,” said Tovera. “I thought that was the best choice. The former owners don’t need it any more.”

 

          Adele nodded. She looked over her seat into the rear compartment. A ten-year-old boy lay on the bare floor. Tovera had cinched him to both sides of the vehicle with elastic cords so that he wouldn’t bounce around too badly, but he wasn’t bound. She must have drugged him.

 

          “I believe we have everything we need,” Tovera said.

 

          “Yes,” said Adele. She didn’t bother to tap her tunic pocket. She could feel the familiar weight of her pistol without checking.

 

***

 

          Daniel heard the aircar dawdling down the Harborfront. It was fifty feet in the air, high enough that the downdraft wouldn’t do damage. The throb of the fans would be unpleasant to anybody beneath it, though.

 

          The hatches on the Princess Cecile‘s bridge were open for ventilation. Now that Cory had been promoted to First Lieutenant and gone aft to the BDC, Daniel was using the astrogation console as a passenger and supernumerary. He got up from it and looked out the port hatch.

 

          “Suppose it’s the mistress coming back?” said Hogg, voicing the unstated hope that had brought Daniel to his feet. “Do you know where she was going?”