The Road Of Danger – Snippet 64


          The dock had a floating extender, but now at high tide it had risen level with the concrete spine where a small aircar waited. Idling fans spun swirls from the steam which the Hrynko‘s thrusters had boiled up from the harbor.


          Adele joined Osorio as he recovered himself enough to turn and wonder what had happened to his hostess. She said, “Where is the transportation you promised?”


          “There on the quay,” the Cremonan said. He started down the ramp at a quickstep; arriving back on his home planet seemed to have revived his mincing arrogance. “Come, don’t you see the car?”


          “That little toy?” said Adele. “I have an escort of twenty, my man. My position demands it.”


          “Not here in Halta City,” Osorio said, too brusquely to have picked up on Adele’s tone. “This is merely a business transaction, you agreeing terms with me and my friends. It is better that you be alone. We don’t want to call attention to your presence, you see. We have rivals.”


          They reached the car, which was tiny. Instead of cushions, the back seat was cast out of the same thermoplastic as the body; the vehicle hadn’t been luxurious when new, and it was by now at least twenty years old. Adele restrained her reflex of bringing out her data unit to identify the car precisely.


          It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. But then, nothing really mattered against the certainty of the Heat Death of the Universe.


          Adele smiled faintly. Most people would not find that thought as reassuring as she did, so it was probably a good thing that she didn’t volunteer it often.


          “This is not acceptable,” she said dismissively to Osorio. “Bring proper vehicles for my escort and myself, or–“


          She turned her palms upright as though scattering trash on the wind.


          “–I will take myself off. To Sunbright, perhaps, to consult with the Governor there. Blaskett is his name, is it not?”


          Osorio and opened his mouth to shout what would probably have been an order couched in insulting terms. His glare melted as the full import of what Adele had said struck him. Enlightenment came just in time to prevent the Cremonan from making an uncomfortable mistake.


          Barnes and Dasi were in charge of Principal Hrynko’s escort. The very least Osorio could have expected was a punch in the belly with the tip of a truncheon. There was a better chance that the riggers–either could have managed it alone, but they were used to working in concert–would have tossed him into the slip.


          “Blaskett is a beast and a criminal, your Ladyship,” Osorio said, looking downward rather than meeting Adele’s eyes. “You would not be treated well by him and his, whatever they might say at first.”


          In context the statement was self-serving, but Adele knew it was basically true. “You will arrange for proper transportation to my meeting, then?” she said coldly.


          “Please, your Ladyship,” Osorio said. “Too public an appearance will really cause the wrong kind of attention. We Cremonans are civilized, but it is true that there are gangs here in Halta City who could be hired by unscrupulous opponents. For your own sake, please–you come with me alone to meet my fellows. The car will truly not hold more than you and me.”


          And the driver, Adele thought. She turned her head slightly and said, “Tovera, can you drive this car?”


          “Certainly,” Tovera said. “But if it stays in ground effect, it’ll carry four. Master Osorio is a cute little butterball, so I don’t mind sharing the back with him.”


          Grinning, she pinched the Cremonan’s waistline. He yelped and jumped back, but that may have been outrage rather than pain.


          Osorio looked toward the aircar, then back at Adele. The driver was watching the proceedings with obvious amusement. Now he volunteered in a Pleasaunce accent, “Room’s maybe a problem, but the weight of all you three isn’t. I can hug the ground if you like, but it’s quicker if we fly.”


          Grinning, he added, “Besides, it’s nigh three weeks since the last good rain, so the streets are filling up with garbage. I don’t need to be down in it.”


          Osorio started to speak but paused; started again but looked at first Adele, then Tovera. He had probably been wondering if he could ask Adele to get in the cramped back seat with her servant because she would fit better than his rotund form.


          At last he sighed and said, “All right, all right, let’s get going. We’ll fly and I’ll squeeze into the back with your secretary, if she must come.”


          “She must,” Tovera said. “Cheer up, cutie. It might be more fun than you think.”


          She giggled.


          “Ma’am?” said Woetjans as Adele stepped into the passenger compartment of the vehicle. The Bosun wasn’t a member of the intended escort, but she’d reached the quay to lash down the boarding bridge ahead of Adele and her companions.


          “Yes?” said Adele.


          “Look,” said the Bosun, “if you figure it’s all right for you to go off with just Tovera, then I guess it is. But you know all you gotta do is holler and we’ll come for you. Right through the heart of this city, and burn it down behind us if that’s what it takes.”


          “Thank you, Mistress Woetjans,” Adele said calmly. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary, but if it were–“


          She gave Osorio a smile, of sorts.


          “–there’s no one I would rather trust with the business than you and your shipmates.”


          She seated herself in the bucket seat beside the driver. Osorio was wheezing behind her. Perhaps that was just because he fit so tightly into the available space.




Above Sunbright


          “You’ve killed us!” Edmonson shouted to Daniel in amazement. “What were you thinking, Pensett?”


          He reached for the controls, apparently believing that Daniel–that Kirby Pensett–had blundered and was frozen in horror. The yawl had extracted between the two Alliance gunboats.


          Normally the first thing captains did on extracting was to engage the High Drive to gain velocity in normal space before they reentered the Matrix. Daniel hadn’t done that for a bloody good reason.