The Road Of Danger – Snippet 69


          There were a number of men, probably chauffeurs, chatting with inn-servants around a large outside sink. The aircar’s driver went to join them without asking permission.


          Osorio fluffed his garments, then beamed professionally toward Adele. “Very well,” he said. “I see that my colleagues are already present. We will go in and introduce you!”


          “Indeed,” Adele said without inflexion. “Get on with it then, sir.”


          Doors in each two-story block opened into the courtyard. Osorio wove around the back of the carriage and minced to the larger arched doorway directly opposite the passage through to the street in the front.


          Adele expected to see guards, but though the open barroom to the left was boisterously full of beer-drinking attendants, none of them appeared to her to be armed. Tovera’s expert opinion might differ, but at any rate she wasn’t walking into the armed camp she had expected of a conclave of clan leaders on a backward world.


          Perhaps she had done Cremona an injustice. But perhaps not.


          A watchful attendant opened the door on the right side of the hallway. Osorio nodded and said, “Lady Hrynko will enter with me.”


          “As will my aide,” Adele said, before the attendant–or potentially much worse, Tovera herself–could speak.


          Osorio grimaced without looking at Adele and said, “Yes, yes, both of them since it must be!”


          People–almost all of them men–had turned to the door when it opened. An oval table with six matching wooden chairs–two were empty–stood on a patterned carpet in the center. Its longer axis was in line with the door on one side and the fireplace–a convection heating unit sat in the alcove, but soot indicated that it had at one point been used for real fires–opposite. On either side twelve chairs of molded plastic, most of them occupied, were in double lines facing the table.


          “My fellows!” said Osorio flourishing his hand like a conjurer. “I present to you Lady Hrynko, owner of the warship which I promised to bring you. Lady Hrynko has agreed to help the cause of Sunbright liberty when we have answered her questions.”


          Adele walked to the empty chair directly in front of the fireplace, ignoring the one on a long side. She didn’t expect anyone to shoot her in the back, and with Tovera standing behind her anyone who tried would have had his work cut out for him. Still, she didn’t care to have people at her back when she was forced to interact with the world directly. So long as she had her console display to escape into, she didn’t care who might be behind her on the Sissie‘s bridge.


          “So, Lady Hrynko…,” said the man facing Adele across the length of the table. “How can we help you understand how important it is that you take a moral stand on the question of liberty or servitude?”


          Osorio was svelte compared to his fellows on the long sides of the table, and this fifth man was grotesquely obese. The chair in which he sat was twice the size of the others, but he filled it like a cork in a bottle.


          Adele changed her mind and placed the personal data unit on the table before her. The wood was lustrously dark, and its grain was a spiral of fine black lines.


          Daniel would love this. Oh, if I could have his day cabin paneled with it as a surprise!


          If she ever saw Daniel again.


          “The morals of a Principal of Kostroma are none of your concern, my good man,” she replied. The feed from Cory identified the fat man as Master Mangravite; he had arrived by the faux carriage. “The running costs of my yacht are approximately seven thousand thalers daily, however, and there will be a further charge to amortize the cost of the ship herself. Shall we say–“


          Adele had been looking at her holographic display. She minimized it to meet Mangravite’s eyes across the table.


          “–an even ten thousand? With the first ten days in advance, and thereafter five days’ payment every fifth day.”


          “Do you chaffer like a street vendor?” Mangravite thundered. “I understood you were a person of quality, like the rest of us at this table!”


          “In my eyes, my man…,” said Adele in the cold, haughty voice she had learned from her mother. “You and the others of your ilk are indistinguishable from the roaches scuttering around your kitchens. I do not chaffer with you, I direct you!”


          There was a risk that her new approach would cause these assembled Friends of Sunbright to attempt physical violence, but Adele had decided, as soon as she saw the people she was dealing with, that the original plan would fail. Since she had to take a risk to succeed, she took the risk.


          If the Friends did attack her, Adele was confident–she smiled mentally–that she and Tovera could kill everyone in the hall by themselves. They were going to run out of ammunition shortly thereafter, however, unless Tovera was even more paranoid than she had demonstrated in the past.


          “Who do you think you are, woman?” Mangravite said. He slapped his hands down on the tabletop and put enough weight on them to make his flesh wobble, though not enough to really lever him out of his chair.


          “I am Principal Hrynko,” Adele said, raising her voice more than she cared to do. The uproar made it necessary, and even so only those seated nearest to her would be able to hear. “I own an armed yacht which my officers assure me is capable of removing the costly thorn from your flesh. As you have no other choice of dealing with the Estremadura, I am telling you my terms.”


          A real Kostroman Principal might have been just as arrogant, but she would not have displayed the same perfect control; that also Adele had from her mother. Esme Rolfe Mundy had been committed to the principles of the Popular Party, which her husband led. She had cared deeply about the plight of the common people and told those around so at every opportunity.