The Road Of Danger – Snippet 45


CHAPTER 12: Ashetown on Madison


          The aircar had curved well out to sea, so Daniel had nothing but time and estimated speed to judge their location by. That was sufficient for him to guess that when they cut the shoreline again, they were about ten miles east of the harbor and therefore well beyond the settle fringes of Ashetown.


          Hogg could probably estimate a good deal closer than that, though it didn’t matter, because satellite tracking from the Sissie would give precise course data. Adele wasn’t aboard, but Cazelet and Cory were following events in real-time.


          Daniel bent over the seatback and said, “Are you a native of Madison, Watchly?”


          The driver glanced toward him, then back to her course. “Master Pensett,” she said uncomfortably. “The Chief will tell you anything he wants you to know. I have nothing to say.”


          Daniel leaned back on the cushions, smiling cheerfully. Adele would probably have known where Watchly had gone to grammar school, but even he could be confident that the driver’s accent meant she was from one of the Alliance homeworlds.


          She was no ordinary driver, either, though she did drive well. Watchly had the look and mannerisms of a senior aide; with near certainty, she was her “Chief’s” personal assistant.


          She brought the car around and dropped toward the yard of a disused farm. They had overflown a right-of-way which a dual-track railroad shared with a highway for self-powered vehicles; that was about a mile behind them now, providing another–unnecessary–data point.


          The car landed on the high grass behind a rambling farmhouse; Watchly shut off her fans. The aircar was out of sight from the main road as well as from the driveway leading to the house; Daniel had noticed as they approached that the gate was closed and chained.


          “I’m to take you in, then leave you alone with the Chief,” Watchly said. She glanced meaningfully at Hogg.


          Hogg raised an eyebrow toward Daniel. Daniel grinned and said, “I’ll scream for help if anyone attempts my virtue, Hogg. Until then, perhaps you could interest the fellows there in the shed–“


          He gestured toward the small outbuilding some twenty feet beyond where the aircar was parked. The door was ajar; there had been movement inside as the car came in to land.


          “–in a game of poker, do you think? You’ll be more comfortable here on the back porch, though, I think.”


          They both looked at Watchly; she flushed. “That’s Martensen, the caretaker,” she said uncomfortably. “I can call him out, if you like. We just–the Chief wants to see you privately.”


          “And so he shall,” Daniel said cheerfully. He gestured toward the back door. “I suspect I can find my own way, mistress,” he said. “But if you prefer to introduce me…?”


          “I’ll take you through,” she said, stepping onto the porch and opening the door. The hallway beyond was dark. She gestured Daniel inside–that was safe enough with Hogg waiting behind her with his hand on a pistol–and followed; a glowstrip lighted as soon as the door closed.


          She walked past Daniel again and tapped on the interior door. “Yes,” a muffled voice called.


          She opened the door and gestured to Daniel. “The Chief is waiting for you, Lieutenant Pensett,” she said.


          Though dim, the ceiling glowstrip was adequate to show all the details of the room beyond. That was in part because there was little to show. A figure faced the door from behind a desk; a distortion screen turned him and the holographic display he was watching into a grayed-out blur. There was no other furniture.


          Daniel wouldn’t have been sure even that the Chief was male had it not been for the bass voice in which he said, “How long ago did you graduate from the Academy, Lieutenant Pensett?”


          “Five years,” Daniel said. Pensett had been his classmate, though the physical resemblance between them was limited to height and gender. That should be enough out here in the Macotta Region. “I was on active duty until the Treaty of Amiens, so I’ve kept my skills up.”


          He hesitated, then added, “I assure you that my astrogation abilities are well beyond anything to be expected in the merchant service.”


          “Do you have any particular memories of your Senior Cruise on the Swiftsure?” the concealed figure asked. He seemed to have ignored Daniel’s answer to the previous question.


          “I bloody well do,” Daniel said. “Cinnabar orbit after we lifted off was the closest I’ve come to getting killed on duty and that was too close. A cable snapped as we were raising the rig. One end came near as near to taking my head off my shoulders!”


          The incident was true, though Cadet Pensett had been in the bow section and therefore not in danger. Cadet Leary, on the other hand–


          “How did that happen?” the Chief said. He continued to sound bored.


          “Ventral K Antenna had been cross-rigged,” Daniel said, his mind going back to a very vivid memory. “It was the crew ahead of ours–we’d just reached orbit, so this was the first time we had the rig up. As the antenna extended, one of the lines tried to tighten instead of running out. A battleship’s hydraulics have a lot of thrust, and even beryllium monocrystal has a tension limit.”


          He shrugged. “I saw strands popping on the cable and ducked just in time,” he said. “Colley–no, Colling his name was, Colling–he was looking the other way. The cable whipped like you wouldn’t believe. It cut him in two at the waist, rigging suit and all. I don’t think they ever did find where the leg half went.”


          Daniel licked his lips; they were suddenly dry. “There was blood all over,” he said. “I thought the right sideplate of my helmet was cracked because I couldn’t see out of it. It was Colling’s blood. That cable had slung it everywhere.”


          With a continued lack of emotion, the voice said, “Who was your classmate Cadet Halevy dating, then?”