The Road Of Danger – Snippet 59


          Lindstrom, though, frowned and said, “Look, Pensett, we’re not RCN, you know, even if you are. I’m not sure–“


          “What I’m not sure about, mistress,” Daniel said, “is what these yobbos on the Estremadura are going to do if they find an ex-RCN officer on a blockade runner. I don’t worry about a trip to Westerbeke, but instead it just might be a dive out an airlock without a suit. And if they space me, well–“


          He shrugged.


          “–they’re not going to leave witnesses, are they?”


          There was silence in the cabin for a moment. Then Lindstrom sighed and said, “Sunbright it is, I suppose. But I tell you, Pensett, we didn’t have any of this trouble before you came aboard.”


          “Don’t fret, mistress,” Daniel said as he started getting into the hard suit with Hargate’s help. “It’ll be a smooth run from here on out, and at the other end–“


          He grinned at the glum-faced crew members.


          “–we’ll all be able to get just as drunk on Sunbright as we could’ve done on Cremona.”


Ashe Haven on Madison


          As Adele entered the bridge she felt the circulating pumps start, a necessary preliminary before testing the plasma thrusters. The big pumps in the stern throbbed a moment later, drawing water from the harbor. For the moment the draft would be wasted back into the slip, but when thrusters were lighted those pumps would replenishing the reaction mass tanks.


          Vesey had rotated the command console inward. When she saw Adele, she shrank her display so that their eyes could meet without a holographic veil between them.


          Adele felt a flash of irritation: she much preferred to be anonymous, a shadow ignored by the others present. She swallowed the reaction since it was manifestly unjust. Everyone aboard was faced by an uncertain situation, and they had to take their cues from Officer Mundy.


          “Carry on, Captain Vesey,” she said aloud as she settled onto her console. Her voice was no colder nor more clipped than it would be if she had just been given wonderful news. “I have some matters to discuss with our passenger, and I’ve chosen to do so here on the bridge.”


          The only wonderful news Adele could imagine at the moment was a report that Daniel was safe. A believable report, because she didn’t indulge in wishful thinking.


          “Yes sir,” said Vesey and expanded her display again. Adele brought hers live.


          Sun had gotten up from the gunnery station beside Adele’s and was showing Master Osorio how to use the training seat which folded out from the back of the signals console; Chazanoff at the missile station had half-turned to be able to look sidelong at Adele across the compartment, while Tovera watched the whole business with cold amusement from a jumpseat against the aft bulkhead.


          Adele supposed it was amusing if viewed in the correct fashion: everyone was staring at the woman who preferred to be invisible. Perhaps at some later point she would actually be able to feel the humor instead of merely accepting it intellectually; for now, she was satisfied that nobody looking at her would understand what she was thinking.


          Pasternak announced over the PA system and the general intercom channel–the general push, as Adele had learned to call it in the RCN, “Testing thrusters One and Eight!


          A moment later thrusters roared. Shortly after that, steam and the sting of ozone drifted into the bridge through open hatches.


          She echoed Vesey’s display on her own. Cory was in charge of the liftoff, with Vesey overseeing the maneuver; Cazelet was ghosting it from the astrogation console.


          Adele allowed herself to compare the Sissie‘s array of talent with what she knew of the officers on ordinary commercial vessels in the Macotta region; or anywhere on the fringes of human settlement, for that matter. Most astrogators would be trained or half-trained by apprenticing with people who were themselves without formal training. The exceptions were generally drunks or officers who for similar reasons had been driven from the core worlds. Only one or at most two people to a ship had even that training, with perhaps a spacer who knew how to program the computer to give a lowest-common-denominator solution.


          Adele’s present life was as close to perfect as she could imagine it being. She was a member of the most efficient ship of the finest navy in the human universe. Her friends and colleagues cherished and respected her, and they constantly displayed themselves worthy of her respect–and of her love, as she understood the meaning of the word.


          But to achieve this perfect–in Adele’s terms–life, it was necessary that the Mundys of Chatsworth have been massacred and that Adele go on to kill more people than she could count; people who often visited her dreams in the hours before dawn. Everything had a cost, she supposed.


          The image of Osorio at the top of her display seemed to be speaking, though Adele couldn’t have heard unaided speech over the thruster roar even if she hadn’t already raised the sound-cancelling field around her station. She felt a moment’s regret at her behavior: she didn’t like the Cremonan attaché, but it had been discourteous to bring him up here and then ignore him.


          She adjusted the cancellation field to encompass the console’s back as well as its front station, then said, “The crew is testing the thrusters, Master Osorio. There’ll be nothing to see until we lift, but–“


          Adele used the override controls on her side of the console to provide Osorio with a panorama of the harbor as viewed from a sensor on the knuckle of the Dorsal A antenna, at present the highest point on the Sissie. As an afterthought, she added her own image to the top of his display so that he could look at her. He seemed to be completely at a loss with the console controls.


          “–that shouldn’t be long. In the interim, you can explain how you sell the prizes captured by Cremonan privateers.”


          Adele had that information already from Forty Stars files, but she was interested in how Osorio would react. His willingness to be frank–let alone honest–would give her a gauge of his character.


          “Well, technically they’re not Cremonan privateers, they’re Sunbright Republic privateers,” he said, “but most of them are fitted out and crewed on Cremona, of course. The lesser Names–” members of the Cremonan noble class “–own most of them, because that doesn’t require much capital. And they sell their prizes on Bailey’s Horn, an independent world but in the Forty Stars, you see?”


          “You personally own privateers, then?” Adele said–a question that she didn’t have the answer to. Osorio was surprising her positively. It was very probable, given her mindset, that surprises would be positive ones.