The Road Of Danger – Snippet 60


          “I have shares in two or three,” Osorio said casually, “but the real profit comes from blockade running if you have enough capital to buy merchandize. And to accept the occasional run of bad luck.”


          His image shrugged. “Four ships in a row that I had half-interests in were captured. Even so, with profits of five hundred percent on each successful cargo, it has been a very good investment.”


          Adele kept her brow smooth, but she was frowning mentally as she reviewed the data already in her files. “Are you and your fellows, your Friends of Sunbright, outfitting all the blockade runners, then?” she said.


          The Forty Stars records indicated there were about a hundred ships occupied in the trade at any one time. Though most individually were quite small, they and their cargoes added to a very considerable outlay.


          The yacht’s hatches were ringing closed. The rumbling which Adele felt through the fabric of the ship was a gear train raising the boarding ramp to become the main hatch. Osorio couldn’t identify the chorus of sounds and vibrations as normal and harmless, though. Instead of answering, he looked around in concern–because he was at the back of a console, that would show him only the starboard hull–and said, “Is everything all right?”


          “Yes,” Adele said. “The crew is readying the ship for liftoff. I asked if the Friends of Sunbright owned most of the blockade runners.”


          The words were a verbal slap rather than a question this time around. Surely the man had travelled on a starship before, to bring him from Cremona to here if nothing else? And not so very long ago!


          “Ah,” Osorio said, nodding as he tried to raise his mind from a slough of fear. “No, no; that would be wonderful, but even together we could not support more than a quarter of the ships trading with the rebels. The trading houses outfit most of them, but even they take money from off-planet investors. From Cinnabar, yes, but from Pleasaunce too, I’m sure.”


          He shrugged, relaxing in the contemplation of profits–and apparent irritation at the fact that others were making most of those profits. “The biggest houses on Cremona are from Alliance planets,” he said, “and they all have correspondent firms on their home worlds. They own as many blockade runners as everyone else together, or very nearly so!”


          Adele looked at his image, though that was merely a place to rest her eyes as her mind considered the avenues which the situation offered to their mission, the Sissie‘s mission. If Osorio was being truthful and accurate, of course; but he was in a position to know the true situation and he didn’t seem to her to be lying.


          “It isn’t fair that the foreigners make so much more of the money than we Cremonans do!” he added bitterly, as if to underscore her belief that he was honest.


          Adele continued to look at him. Alliance and Cinnabar estimates agreed that the Cremonan Names controlled 90% of the planet’s wealth. They also agreed that the Names paid no taxes whatever to the central government, which explained why Cremona’s government was even weaker than the norm of similarly benighted fringe worlds.


          “The universe has never appeared to me to be particularly fair,” Adele said at last. “I think some people should be thankful for that reality.”


          After a moment, she said, “Many more people should be thankful that appear to be, in fact.”


          Before Osorio could respond–if he even intended to–Cory’s voice boomed through the speakers in unconscious attempt to mimic Daniel, “Ship, this is Five! Prepare for liftoff!


          The roar of the eight thrusters began to build. At full output they filled the world of all those aboard The House of Hrynko.


The Matrix, en route to Sunbright


          Daniel waited in the Savoy‘s airlock with his gauntlet on the pump housing. The panel was fitted with red and green lights to indicate whether the atmosphere within the lock was balanced with that on the other side of the hatch, but they didn’t work. Waiting until he could feel the pump shut off gave the same result.


          The vibration stilled. Daniel opened the inner hatch with one hand and lifted off his helmet–he had already unlatched it–with the other. Hogg helped his master step over the coaming. Daniel started to object, but a sudden, unutterable weariness stilled his tongue.


          Hogg walked him toward the owner’s bunk. Lindstrom got out of the way without objection.


          “I’ve seen you look this bad before, young master,” Hogg said, “but you’d been having more fun than you seem to be now.”


          Daniel sat heavily with his legs splayed out before him. He would have collapsed had it not been for Hogg’s support. West, who had the next shift on the hull, and Lindstrom herself began stripping off his hard suit.


          “I was going to set some course adjustments at the console,” Daniel said. He thought he sounded hoarse. His voice was so soft that he wasn’t sure the others present could make out his words. “I think I’d better get a little sleep first, though. Don’t let me sleep more than an hour, though.”


          Hogg snorted. “You’ll sleep longer than that,” he said, “and I’ll try to fix up some of the raw patches where these bloody suits’ve been rubbing you. They’re eating you alive, bugger me if they ain’t!”


          Hogg glared at Lindstrom, who didn’t look up. Working in concert with West, she wriggled the lower half of the hard suit down and off Daniel’s legs. He felt sudden relief, followed as suddenly by jabs of pain as the compartment’s cooler air touched the sores which the ill-fitting hard suits rubbed in him. He could wear either suit, but they merely punished different portions of his skin.


          Lindstrom and West–Hargate and Blemberg were asleep and Edmonson was still on the hull–unlatched the upper portion of the suit.


          Hogg began daubing Daniel’s left ankle with salve from the medical kit. “Wish I had proper lanolin salve like I would back to Bantry,” he growled in a savage tone.


          “It’s not just what the suits cost,” Lindstrom muttered defensively. She was careful not to meet the eyes of either Hogg or his master. “It’s volume, you see how tight it is with two hard suits. This isn’t a luxury liner here.”


          The remainder of the suit came off. This particular one scraped Daniel’s collarbones instead of his elbows like the other. Hogg lifted away the folded rags which at least absorbed the matter leaking from the sores and got to work with the salve again.


          “Oh, well, it’s a cheap price to pay for Sunbright’s liberty,” Daniel said cheerfully.


          Lindstrom snorted. “Liberty?” she said. “Is that what you call it?”


          “More like rats in a pit,” said West, sitting on the deck to slide his legs into the suit Daniel had relinquished. “With no food.”