The Road Of Danger – Snippet 68


          The establishment just ahead to the left must have a fusion generator; the frontage was as brightly lighted as that of a spaceport terminal. Its walls of earth stabilized with a plasticizer were only waist high, and the louvered shutters which would keep out rain had been swung up against the corrugated roof. The lights threw a broad fan of illumination across the road and the wooden pole–a tree trunk–on the edge of the dike.


          For a moment the pole was a blur at the edge of his vision, less interesting than the act on the stage of the dive across the street. Then Daniel jerked his head around and reached for the helmet in his bag. He wasn’t wearing it because the distinctive outline would call attention to him, but he very much wanted the magnification and light-intensification that its visor would have provided.


          “What is that, Riely?” he demanded. “That pole? It seems to be covered with human hands!”


          “They’re hands,” Hogg confirmed from the truck bed. “Some ‘ve been there long enough to dry, too, but from the pong there’s plenty of fresher ones too.”


          “They were traitors,” Riely said, driving on at a sedate twenty miles per hour. There were plenty of pedestrians, alone or in pairs and gaggles, but thus far at least the truck had avoided them, or vice versa. “Or somebody said they were traitors.”


          He glanced at Daniel, the first time he had taken his eyes off his driving. “And I don’t know what they did to make them traitors,” he said. “You’d have to ask the people who killed them about that. Though I recommend you don’t, because anyone who could give you a truthful answer would be likely to consider the question traitorous.”


          Riely stopped in front of a building with the look of a blockhouse or a prison. A man with a slung carbine swung open the gate into the walled yard; the automatic impeller in the roof cupola was pointing north down the street toward the bulk of the town.


          The agent got down from his side as Daniel and Hogg swung from theirs. To Daniel’s surprise, that left only the guards in the back; the Savoy‘s crew must have jumped off during the truck’s saunter down the Strip.


          “Garmin,” Riely said, “you and Kelly drive back for Mayer. Tell him to radio from the ship when the manifest is cleared.”


          They entered through the gate with Hogg walking backward behind them to watch the street. Daniel said, “Is Kotzebue the only place like this? That’s in this condition, I mean.”


          “No, it bloody isn’t,” Riely said bitterly. “It’s the whole planet, or it will be before long. And when it’s over, there won’t be anybody outside the enclaves. The rice won’t be planted because the farmers are dead, and the gangsters will have left because there’s nobody around to rob. And I guess I’ll have gone. Or maybe I won’t, I’ll be dead too.”


          He took a deep breath. For a moment he looked ancient, a skull covered with parchment skin. He said, “You can wait here, Pensett. I don’t know how long it’ll be before somebody contacts you. I just pass on messages. After that, it’s out of my hands.”


          Riely opened the steel door into his warehouse, then looked over his shoulder to meet Daniel’s eyes. “It’s none of my business,” he said. “You do what you please. But what I advise you to do is get off this hellhole as quickly as you can. Because it’s only going to get worse.”


          Two pistol shots sounded, in the street but very close. Somebody screamed until a third shot silenced her.


          Riely shut the door behind them.


Halta City on Cremona


          Adele gripped the sidepanel as Osorio’s driver pulled the aircar into a tight spiral to keep up speed as they landed in the tight space. Tovera would probably have tried to drop vertically on lift alone. The driver seemed skillful, so he was probably correct in doubting that this car’s fans could safely hold it in a hover.


          The bow lifted slightly as they touched down, killing their forward velocity in less than a foot after contact. They were between a pair of ground cars decorated in an ornately tacky fashion; one seemed to ape an animal-drawn carriage. The several additional vehicles included another aircar.


          Tovera looked at the parked cars as she got out. “Hogg would be very impressed,” she said, so dryly that a stranger would not have heard the implied sneer.


          Osorio’s presence had prevented Adele from gathering information about the building they’d arrived at. It was built around a courtyard with a three-story front and two stories on the remaining sides. It seemed to be a hotel, though Adele’s glimpse of the legend painted on the porte-cochere had been too brief to be certain.


          Less than a minute with my data unit would tell me so much!


          Unfortunately, it might also tell the locals too much about Principal Hrynko. She had chosen not even to wear an earbud, though Cazelet would send a warning by way of Tovera if his data search turned up a problem.


          Adele almost smiled. While Cazelet pored through records, Cory was using satellites to keep a real-time watch on the building and its surroundings. She supposed that with assistants of their quality, she could afford to take an hour off for other duties.


          Master Osorio waited until Tovera was before until he climbed out of the car. He had squeezed himself as tightly as possible into the left side, facing Tovera with his knees drawn up to his chest.


          She had merely smirked during the short flight. Adele was grateful for her restraint, but she probably wouldn’t have intervened if Tovera had chosen to needle Osorio further. The little man and his presumptions had been offensive from the first.


          Adele had no idea of what her servant’s sexual proclivities were. The subject didn’t interest her to begin with, and she was fairly certain that nothing she learned about Tovera’s personal life would help her sleep better at night.