The Road Of Danger – Snippet 46


          Daniel shrugged. “Hell if I know,” he said. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t know her well enough to care.”


          He paused and added, “She was bright, I give her that. But that’s all I’ll give her. She had trouble with her PT scores. I had the feeling that if she wasn’t so bloody bright, she’d have left at the end of the first year.”


          The figure across the desk shrank his display to look directly at Daniel. Until then it had been a rectangular sheen within the otherwise featureless blur of the distortion field.


          “Look,” Daniel said, letting his disquiet at the situation enter his voice; he hoped his tone would read as bored irritation. “Are you doing to get to the point? Because if you want to hear about my dear old schooldays, you can wait for my memoirs while I do something useful.”


          “I assure you that this is useful, Lieutenant,” the voice said. “I had to determine that you were not an imposter before I opened the matter to you.”


          The portentous tone struck Daniel as false, but it might well have been no more false than that of any other man pretending to himself that the fate of the nation was in his hands. There were no few of those, which Daniel had learned as a child in the house of Speaker Leary.


          Corder Leary himself spoke with the unemotional precision of an architect describing a housing block. Nothing in his voice ever suggested that there was more than casual importance to the order he was giving; though it might mean the immediate murder of some thousands of men and women; along with a number of children, inevitably gathered up in haste and error.


          “I need a messenger to carry dispatches to Sunbright,” the hidden man said. “They must be put into the hands of Freedom himself. There are any number of adventurers here on Madison, let alone Cremona, who would contract to carry them, but they would be venal or worse. You are an RCN officer, Lieutenant; you are therefore a man of honor and a patriot.”


          I wouldn’t say…, Daniel thought. But considering the context and the RCN officers he had met–before as well as since he entered the Academy–the statement was a pretty fair approximation of the truth.


          Aloud he said, “I hope I am a man of honor, yes; and I’m certainly a patriot. I don’t see how my patriotism is involved with the problems of scruffy foreigners here at the back of beyond, however.”


          The Chief laughed. “That is a matter for higher ranks than yours, Lieutenant,” he said, “but I assure you that my statement is quite true. All you have to do is to carry out your duties with the skill and determination to be expected of an RCN officer. Are you willing to do that?”


          “I was planning to look for, well, a position, after I reached Sunbright,” Daniel said cautiously. “Is this business going to affect my chances of doing that?”


          “It will not,” the other man said. “But this duty is a paid position also. Here are–“


          He slid his right hand through the distortion screen. His fingers were short, pudgy, and well manicured. He lifted and withdrew them to display ten high-denomination coins.


          “–a thousand Cinnabar florins. The fee is yours upon your oath as an RCN officer that you will use your best efforts to deliver the dispatches–“


          His left hand appeared, pushing a chip case, then withdrew.


          “–into the hands of Freedom. I depend on your honor; but the Republic also depends on you.”


          “A thousand florins?” Daniel said in surprise. He leaned forward to view the case more closely, being careful not to touch it. It was a standard RCN model, which meant that unauthorized opening would destroy the contents and probably the hands of the thief.


          “It will be a difficult task…,” the Chief said. He continued to sound like a recruiting spiel for an elite combat unit. “And an extremely dangerous one. You will earn your pay, Lieutenant.”


          Daniel chuckled. He dropped the coins into his breast pocket, then slid the chip case into the right cargo pocket of his utility trousers.


          “I was going to Sunbright anyway,” he said to the blurred figure. “For a thousand florins, I don’t mind looking up somebody on the ground there.”


          He took a step back and said in a challenging tone, “I don’t believe your story about this being my duty to the Republic. But that doesn’t matter one way or the other, since I’m on half-pay till notified. Are we done now?”


          “We are done, Lieutenant,” the Chief said. His voice had returned to the calm boredom with which he had begun the interview. “Watchly will take you and your man to the Savoy.”


          Daniel turned on his heel and walked out, trying to hide his delight. He didn’t trust anything the Chief had just told him–but it really didn’t matter.


          He couldn’t have given himself a better excuse to find Sunbright if he had planned the whole meeting.




          Tovera was wearing a loose gray sweater and darker gray slacks. The garments didn’t fit very well, but they probably hadn’t fitted the original owner either.


          Without glancing aside from her driving–Tovera was a very earnest driver–she said, “There’s another set in the back that will do for you. There’s plenty of time for you to get them on before we reach the warehouse.”


          Adele leaned into the back and found a sweater with broad horizontal stripes of blue and maroon–both colors originally dark but badly faded–and a pair of slacks indistinguishable from those Tovera was wearing. They were so loose that she pulled them on over the clothes she was wearing, then transferred her pistol to a trouser pocket.


          She didn’t ask about the boy; his condition wasn’t important at this moment. Tovera was one of the most consciously observant people Adele had ever met, however; she caught her mistress’ glance toward the rear of the van after she had finished dressing.