The Road Of Danger – Snippet 67


          “It was too far away for a pellet to even reach us,” Daniel said mildly. “Even if it’d been aimed this way.”


          “Bloody buggering hell,” Riely whispered toward his boots. He looked up, suddenly sharper, and said to Daniel, “You’re the courier to Freedom?”


          “Yes,” said Daniel. “You transmitted my message to him?”


          He had sent the message, as directed, in a standard Alliance administrative code–the sort of thing that would be used for personnel records, but with a few changes which would prevent an unmodified receiver from translating it. That said, an experienced signals officer could decode it quickly, and an expert–let alone Adele–could do it in his sleep. It kept complete outsiders from reading the contents, but little more.


          “I sent it on through the missile battery,” Riely said, gesturing vaguely toward the town. “They’ve got a link to the system, I don’t. Look, come back to my office with me. I want to talk with you.”


          “Not before you’ve checked the cargo,” Lindstrom snapped.


          “Mayer can do that,” said the agent. “Mayer, you and Mistress Lindstrom go over the manifest. I’ll send the car back for you as soon as I’ve gotten to the office.”


          “I’m coming,” said West.


          “And me!” said Hargate, joining the others in the compartment.


          “Hey!” said Lindstrom. “You’re not leaving me here alone. And Hogg, hand over those guns. They stay with the ship.”


          Daniel thought briefly. “Hogg,” he said, “give Mistress Lindstrom one of the carbines. Mistress, we’ll return the other as soon as we’re able to find something of our own, which I don’t think will be hard in this environment.”


          As if to underscore his remark, there was a single gunshot and the Crack! whee-e-e of a ricochet from the south end of town. Daniel grinned.


          “And Edmonson, you stay with her till she releases you,” he added.


          “Who do you think you are to give orders to me!” said the outraged spacer.


          Hogg straightened his left arm and tossed Lindstrom the carbine Daniel had refused. Facing Edmonson he growled, “Who he is, boyo, is the fellow who’s going to kick your balls up between your ears. Just like he did your buddy Petrov. Remember?”


          “Oh, screw you both,” the space muttered, but he said it as he turned and hopped into the crew capsule quickly enough to dodge a boot if Hogg had decided to aim one at him. Instead Hogg smiled, though Edmonson’s quick retreat had probably saved him a kick–or a jab with a buttstock.


          “I never checked in a cargo by myself,” whined Mayer.


          “Well, then it’s bloody well time that you learned how!” the agent said. He stepped to the dike, then into the vehicle’s cab and slid behind the steering yoke. “All right, get aboard those of you who’re coming. Pensett, you sit in the front with me.”


          Daniel obeyed with a faint smile. The agent–his contact with Freedom as well as the consignee on this cargo of contraband–should be more polite, even though he didn’t know he was dealing with a Leary of Bantry.


          On the other hand, teaching Riely to keep a civil tongue in his head wouldn’t benefit the needs of the Republic. The poor fellow was obviously feeling the strain.


          They pulled away from the dike. The vehicle wasn’t articulated, but all eight wheels were steerable. Daniel had always found that kind of system to be more trouble than it was worth, but Riely used it expertly. They crossed the paddy at a rumbling trot, keeping just below the speed at which the big tires would rain mud on everyone aboard.


          “Have you met Freedom in the past, Pensett?” the agent said. He kept his eyes on the terrain and his hands on the yoke.


          “No,” said Daniel. “And I’ve never been on Sunbright before. Is there much fighting in this region?”


          “It depends what you mean,” Riely said. “If you mean with the government, no. Alliance troops only leave their enclaves in heavily armed convoys, except sometimes a squad of Special Troops lifts by spaceship from Saal and inserts into waste country to raid on foot. Kotzebue is five hundred kilometers from Saal and there’s too many people with guns around here to make a commando raid better than suicide. There’s at least a dozen gangs, and most of them have mortars and automatic impellers by this time.”


          He twitched the steering yoke, angling to intersect the steep bank at a precise ninety degrees. That puzzled Daniel for a moment: his own reflex would have been to approach at a grazing angle to reduce the effective slope. Then he realized that this truck had a high center of gravity and was likely to overturn on a sideslope.


          I suppose I can accept a certain lack of courtesy from a driver as good as he is, Daniel thought, letting the smile show.


          “But if you mean fighting as in people killing each other every bloody night…,” said Riely, “that we’ve got in plenty. If the gangs don’t have the Alliance to fight–and they don’t–they’ll fight each other or just shoot anybody who happens to be around!”


          He slowed slightly as the front wheels touched the bank, then fed in more power to climb at a steady rate. At the top he paused momentarily so that when they toppled onto level ground the front axles took the shock without slamming them all forward.


          The truck turned right on the broad, unpaved street. The permanent buildings–or semi-permanent; some were solid framed but fabric roofed–were all on the left, but there were hovels of various sorts on top of the dike.


          Some were commercial, in the sense of three-sided cribs for cheap whores or a thimble-riggers table; most just provided a bum with a modicum of protection from the weather. Since there was no street lighting and vehicle headlights were likely to be mud-covered, the shanties must be driven over fairly often. Presumably nobody cared very much, including the victims.