The Road Of Danger – Snippet 58


          Her smile slipped. She did very much want to lift off. If the Princess Cecile had been ready to lift when the cruiser made for Daniel, Adele would have done so immediately, regardless of her cover as Principal Hrynko. As it was, all she could do at the moment was to determine what had happened. Later she would right it, if possible.


          Adele entered the bow rotunda and strode across it to the bridge. Tovera was a silent shadow a step behind, and Osorio panted audibly at the unpracticed effort of the steep helical staircase.


          The Cremonans wanted to hire to House of Hrynko to destroy the Estremadura. Adele would force them to make a reasonable offer for the services of her yacht, but that was only because the businessmen backing the project would be suspicious if she didn’t demand that.


          But the money really didn’t matter: Adele had already determined that. The Sissie and her crew would eliminate the cruiser. She only hoped that she would be punishing the Estremadura‘s crew for worrying her, rather than taking revenge for Daniel’s death.


The Matrix


          Daniel finished a series of computations before he rotated his couch and grinned at his companions. Hogg appeared nonchalant. The expression might be feigned, but probably not. Hogg had complete faith in the young master’s infallibility regarding anything to do with a starship, so he saw nothing to worry about.


          “What the bloody hell are you playing at?” Kiki Lindstrom demanded. She looked furious. To a degree the anger could be hiding her fear, though Daniel’s cavalier behavior toward her ship and herself gave plenty of reason for her to be pissed.


          The faces of three of the crewmen ranged from worried to frightened. The fourth, Blemberg, had no expression at all–as always before in Daniel’s experience. Daniel couldn’t tell at this early point in their acquaintance whether Blemberg was unflappably stolid or if he was simply too stupid to understand that they were in danger.


          “There’s a cruiser here in the system, targeting blockade runners,” Daniel said. “The Estremadura.”


          Lindstrom nodded, suddenly looking thoughtful. “I’ve heard of her,” she said. “She’s a privateer, really. The governor of Sunbright hired her because the Funnel Squadron couldn’t catch its ass with both hands. But she operates above Cremona, mostly, and sends her prizes to Westerbeke.”


          “Well, for now, she’s in Madison orbit,” Daniel said. “She’s coming for us, and her captain is bloody good. That’s why I’ve been bouncing around like a training exercise.”


          He was glad to see that the crewmen, too, were relaxing. When he started discussing a real danger, they realized that their captain and the only astrogator aboard hadn’t suddenly gone crazy–which was the best explanation they’d previously had for his behavior.


          Lindstrom backed to her bunk and seated herself again. “The Estremadura‘s been in this system before but didn’t bother us when we lifted off?” she said. Her tone made the words a question.


          “Well, that’s changed,” Daniel said flatly. “If we’d been fifteen seconds later in inserting, she’d have hit us with her guns. They couldn’t have done a lot of damage at this range, but we wouldn’t have been able to insert if she kept hitting the hull. So we have a problem.”


          “Sir?” said Hargate. “Can you get us out? If they carry the ship to Westerbeke and condemn it, they just dump us spacers out on the beach there with the clothes we stand in.”


          “I think we’ll be able to handle it, yes,” said Daniel. He smiled again, but this time with the hard triumph of a chess player about to make a move which he is sure will take his opponent by surprise. “The Estremadura expects us to sail to Cremona–they have our course projections. I don’t know how but they do, and whoever is captaining that cruiser will know what to do with the data. So–“


          He paused to let the delay add drama.


          “–we’ll go directly to Sunbright instead. I’ve plotted the course, and I’ll be out on the hull most hours to refine it on route.”


          “But we can’t do that!” Lindstrom said, her voice cutting through the spacers’ disconcerted babble. “We don’t have food for a straight run, and I don’t know that the reaction mass will last out either.”


          “We have enough food,” said Daniel flatly, “and the reaction mass will be fine too. I checked them both as soon as I recalculated the course. We’ll drop into normal space when we’re ten light-minutes out from Madison on the present course. That’ll give us time enough to build up speed before the Estremadura catches up with us again, if she even tries. Then–“


          He repeated his artificially bright grin.


          “–we don’t enter the sidereal universe again until we’re in the Sunbright system.”


          “Can you do that?” Lindstrom said, rather as though Daniel had said he planned to dance on the hull without a suit.


          “Can’t be done,” said West much more forcefully. “Can’t be done! Never heard of nobody doing that!”


          “Nonsense,” Daniel said in a brusquely cheerful done. “We did it in the RCN every day. Well, every voyage, pretty much.”


          That was a flat lie, but it was closer to the truth than West’s denial. Any RCN Academy graduate should be able to bring his ship close enough to an intended point after seven straight days in the Matrix that she could at least find his goal after extraction.


          The problem was the human cost. People saw things after long immersion in the Matrix. Seven days was long enough for spacers to see a corridor where they knew there was a solid bulkhead; and sometimes to see some one or some thing approaching down that corridor.


          Daniel had once seen his mother. She had stared at him in horror, then walked on very quickly and disappeared.


          “You done that?” West said, but the words sounded like a prayer for absolution.


          “Many times,” Daniel said, truthfully this time. “Now, I’ve got the new course loaded. Hargate, I’ll need your suit for the initial watch. West, you and I will go clear the stuck antenna or whatever the problem really is. Hogg–“


          He smiled at his servant. So far, so good.


          “–I’ll bang three times on the hull with a wrench when we’re ready. When I do that, you push the red button.”


          He pointed to the Execute button on the console. At one time it would have been protected with a hinged cage, but that had been lost in the distant past.


          “Got it?”


          Hogg grunted. “Guess I can handle that, young master,” he said. “In between trying to learn how to pour piss outa a boot, y’know.”


          Hargate was stripping off the ill-fitting hard suit with enthusiasm. He might have doubts about seven straight days in the Matrix, but he was certain he didn’t want to wear the suit.