The Road Of Danger – Snippet 61


          He looked up at the ship owner. “Nothing against you, mum,” he said, “but I might not’ve made the run this time without Petrov promised us a bonus if we’d….”


          He must have been very tired to have said that, Daniel thought as West stopped speaking with his mouth open. He seemed frozen, afraid to turn his head for fear of seeing either Daniel or Hogg.


          If West had been any doubt regarding what kind of reaction was possible, Hogg dispelled it by saying, “I’ll give you a bonus, boyo. I won’t cut your balls off just now–if you’re lucky.”


          “That’s all water under the bridge, Hogg,” Daniel said. Necessity allowed him to chuckle pleasantly, which he found helped considerably with the discomfort of his long hours on the hull. “West, you’ve shown yourself an able spacer, and I’d be glad of your presence in any crew I commanded.”


          That was stretching the truth somewhat, but the old fellow did know his way about the rigging. The propulsion system a closed book to him, even for so simple an operation as polishing the throats of the High Drive motors with emery cloth. On a ship of any size, however, there would be riggers and techs, neither of whom would be expected to know the others’ job.


          Daniel bent and straightened the fingers of his left hand while Hogg worked on his right shoulder. Neither set of gauntlets was comfortable either, but at least they were overlarge rather than pinching.


          “What do you mean about rats?” he said aloud, smiling as he looked at West. He didn’t want him being so frightened of Hogg that he missed his hold out on the hull and went drifting into oblivion with half the Savoy‘s inadequate stock of rigging suits. “From what I’ve seen–“


          In Adele’s typically excellent briefing materials.


          “–the Alliance governor is brutal and grasping even for, well, out here. It’s not my fight, but I can certainly understand the locals deciding they’ve had enough and trying to do something about it.”


          He’d almost said, “… even for this far out in the sticks.” Which was true but was impolitic, since everyone aboard the yawl apart from himself and Hogg was from the Macotta Region.


          “I don’t know about the governor,” Lindstrom said. “I didn’t get involved on Sunbright till I started these runs, and I wouldn’t be the sort to get invited to the governor’s palace anyhow.”


          She stepped away from West, who now had the suit on. He got up with the slow care of a spacer whose suit fits badly.


          “But what it is now…,” she said, sitting down on the other side of Daniel from Hogg. She reached across and took the liter-sized tube of salve. “Is a bloody shambles.”


          Lindstrom began salving Daniel’s right shoulder. She was used to the work; her hands were no firmer than they needed to be when they covered the sores themselves.


          “It’s easier work taking rice from the gang in the next vestry,” she said, “than it is going up against the Naval Infantry and the Alliance Guards that’re sitting in any place big enough to rate a garrison. And it’s easier still to loot civilians who don’t have a garrison or a local gang claiming to own them already.”


          West stepped into the airlock and dogged it behind him. He was still holding his helmet, though he’d have to latch it down soon.


          “There’s a lot of money in running these cargos,” Lindstrom continued, her voice growing softer. “More than I could make any other way, a lot more. And the risk, well. We’ve been doing all right, Pensett, and I guess we’ll do better with you than we did with Pete. But…”


          She shrugged. The whine of the pump evacuating the airlock made the bunk quiver. The vibration was more noticeable through the cabin fittings than within the heavily framed lock itself.


          “People are paying off old scores, now that they’ve got guns and there’s no police to worry about,” Lindstrom said. She had begun massaging Daniel’s shoulder muscles instead of spreading salve. “And I guess that’s all right, it’s no skin off my butt, but they’re pretty much treating anybody who doesn’t have a gun as the real crop, not the rice those folks were growing. And I’m kinda tired of that. It gets old fast.”


          “What about the fellow running things, Kiki?” Daniel asked. Hogg had edged away slightly, giving him and Lindstrom as much privacy as the cramped compartment allowed. “The one who calls himself Freedom.”


          He didn’t want to show too much knowledge, but it was reasonable that somebody being sent to Sunbright would have gotten a little information about the place. Besides, Lindstrom seemed to be looking for somebody to talk to.


          Lindstrom frowned as though she was really puzzling over the answer. She said, “He lit the fuze, but I guess he couldn’t control it once it all started going. He’s there on Sunbright, he shows up here and there, but nobody knows where his base is.”


          She shrugged. “He can’t control it, there’s no ‘thing’ to control,” she said. “Each gang does what it wants; takes what it wants, that’s the truth of it. Nobody can stop it now, not even Freedom if he wanted to. It’s going to go on until every plantation on Sunbright’s been burned, and every adult outside the garrisoned cities is in a gang or’s been killed by somebody who is. There won’t be any children. And I–“


          Lindstrom’s fingers were no longer kneading Daniel’s shoulders; instead they were clamping hard. It cost him effort and the certainty of bruises not to break the spell by saying something.


          “–am making great pots of money by selling them the guns to kill themselves with. Bloody wonderful business, isn’t it?”


          Daniel thought in silence for… he wasn’t sure how long. His mind was swimming through colored lights which sometimes formed images either from memory or of his present surroundings. He wasn’t always sure which of those were which, however.


          Aloud he said, “I’m very tired, Kiki. I’m sorry but I’m….”


          Daniel lurched to his feet; Hogg steadied him as he walked across the compartment. The bottom bunk of the four-high tier was empty, which was a blessing. Though he would probably be able to grip the frame of a higher one while Hogg swung his legs up onto the mattress.


          My brain still works, he thought with a faint smile. Though complex problems may require a little longer than usual.


          He sat down, bending forward so that his shoulders didn’t thump Hargate, who slept on the next one up.


          “Kiki?” he said. “There’s a way to fix it, I know there is. But you’re going to have to give me a little time.”


          He collapsed sideways onto the mattress. Lindstrom was staring at him as if he had gone mad.