The Road Of Danger – Snippet 52


          It would be bad if an RCN officer were arrested aboard a blockade runner carrying arms to the Sunbright rebels. If by some chance the RCN officer were identified as Captain Daniel Leary–that would be very bad indeed.


          Answer me, Daniel!




          “Mistress Lindstrom?” Daniel said, nodding to the ship-owner as she backed out of the hatchway to allow him and Hogg aboard. “I thought I’d familiarize myself with the electronics tonight. Tomorrow morning I’ll go over the rigging, but that’s a job for daylight, right?”


          “The rigging’s all right,” Lindstrom said. “It got us here, didn’t it? Why wouldn’t it get us back to Cremona?”


          Daniel waited till she met his eyes. If she hadn’t been his superior officer–at least until they lifted off–he might have taken her chin between thumb and forefinger to turn her face toward him.


          “Since you’re not a moron, mistress,” he said, “you don’t really mean that. Please tell me what the problem is, so that I can at least try to fix it.”


          Lindstrom glared at him. Daniel tried to keep his face quietly neutral, but he was tense inside as he waited for one from a familiar catalogue of shouted or snarled responses:


          Nothing’s wrong!


          You’re the one with the problem, so you tell me!


          Why should I bother! It’s no use talking to you!


          The fact that Daniel didn’t have the faintest notion what he’d done wrong wouldn’t help. At least it had never helped in the past.


          Lindstrom’s face softened from anger into the nervous misery she had been trying to conceal. “Oh, bloody Hell,” she said, not shouting. “I don’t know what the trouble is, I’m just feeling jumpy. I felt the same way when we extracted over Sunbright on our second run and we were bloody near on top of a patrol ship.”


          “And you got out of that fine,” Daniel said. “Let’s go over the console together. And I packed light, but not so light that I didn’t find room for a bottle.”


          He was feeling such relief that his knees trembled. What with one thing and another, he’d had a lot of women screaming abuse at him over the years. While he wouldn’t say that he’d come to long for a quiet life, he did increasingly appreciate Miranda Dorst’s calm intelligence.


          “I’ve got one open,” Lindstrom said, turning with him toward the crew capsule. “Maybe we’ll move on to yours later.”


          After a step she added, “And call me Kiki, will you?”


          The hatch was only wide enough for one at a time. “Ma’am?” said Hogg as the owner led the way through.


          Daniel backed out of the way; Lindstrom paused and turned her head. Without warmth she said, “Right?”


          “D’ye have any guns aboard?” Hogg said. “I mean, for using. I don’t care what’s in the cargo.”


          “There’s a pair of carbines in the locker here,” she said, tapping the vertical chest starboard of the hatchway. “For when we’re on the ground on Sunbright, just in case. But I’m the only one with the key.”


          “Well, ma’am,” Hogg said, his eyes turned toward the deck. He was so perfectly the bashful rustic that Daniel wanted to burst out laughing. “I don’t know squat about consoles and electronics, but guns is different. I figure I could sit out here in the hold and go over the carbines so that I’m sure they work if we need them. Though you could do worse for a club, I suppose.”


          Lindstrom was silent for a moment. Then she said, “Right,” and fished out a key fob attached by a length of monocrystal line to a loop her equipment belt. She touched it to the lock plate, then stepped into the crew capsule. Daniel followed her.


          The owner’s bunk had a railing so that it could be curtained off from the remainder of the tiny cabin, but the curtain itself was missing. A stack of four more bunks folded against the opposite bulkhead, battered outward because of the hull’s curve. The vertical space between bunks would be tight, but no worse than would have been the case in the midshipmen’s berth of a battleship.


          With Hogg aboard, there couldn’t be assigned bunks. That didn’t matter. The large crews of warships always shared bunks, and that was normally the case on smaller merchant vessels as well.


          Lindstrom sat on the edge of her bunk and reached under it, coming out with a bottle. She looked at Daniel and patted the bedding beside her.


          With careful nonchalance, Daniel walked past her and sat at the console as though he hadn’t noticed the invitation. Only after he had touched a few keys to bring up the system diagnostics did he turn beaming and say, “Kiki, this is a first class piece of hardware! It’s not new, but I trained on older systems at the Academy. This is much better than I expected!”


          Daniel’s enthusiasm–perhaps a little exaggerated for effect, but the astrogation computer really was a solid unit–smoothed Lindstrom’s brief scowl away. She unstoppered the bottle, took a slug of its faintly violet contents, and offered it to Daniel. Because the compartment was so small, he didn’t have to rise from the console to take it.


          “We gutted the Savoy and replaced all the controls,” Lindstrom said, warming. “The hull was fine and the rigging was too except for the cordage, we replaced that. The only problem’s been the bloody fusion bottle.”