The Road Of Danger – Snippet 70


          That said, mother had been acutely aware that common people were common and she, a Rolfe by blood and a Mundy by marriage–two of the most noble houses on Cinnabar–was nothing of the sort. It would have been no kindness to allow simple folk to get above themselves.


          Her daughter had a different and much clearer view of the lower orders, having been a member of them for the fifteen years following her parents’ execution. When necessary, however, she could still ape her mother; and it was necessary now.


          Adele had visualized Cremona as being as sophisticated socially as it was technologically: a crude copy of Cinnabar or Pleasaunce. In fact the planet was organized like a small town run by shopkeepers.


          The five men at the table were wealthy by Cremonan standards, but Osorio had admitted that the bulk of the blockade running was done by off-planet factors because most of the locals couldn’t afford the outlay. Privateering–or crude piracy–was as much as they were capable of.


          The lesser gentry filled the chairs set to either side. A few of them appeared to have risen well into the middle class. The rest were farmers or mechanics; in a good line of business, perhaps, but obviously more comfortable wearing work clothes than in the frilled dress clothing they had squeezed into for this meeting.


          An advantage to dealing with people face to face, Adele thought in conscious self-mockery. Given an hour and their names–which she could have gathered herself within another hour’s searching–she would have known just as much about the Friends. It had only taken her a few seconds to scan the room, but she would rather have spent a few hours on the bridge of the Princess Cecile.


          “Lady Hrynko?” said Master Osorio.


          By a conscious effort of will, Adele turned her face toward Osorio instead of twitching the image into view on her display. Of the fifteen people in her direct vision at the moment, he was the only one who seemed at his ease.


          “You have stated your terms, your Ladyship,” he said. “As businessmen ourselves we can appreciate both your restraint and the limited ranges of options open to us–and you noted. How quickly are you prepared to undertake the mission should we Friends agree to your terms?”


          In describing the situation while they were still on Madison, Osorio had said that five of the major nobles were the real power of the Friends and that the score of other members were merely makeweights. Now that Adele had seen the Friends in conclave, she would have amended that to say that Master Mangravite, a landowner who also owned a significant trading house, was himself the Friends of Sunbright, and that four of his noble colleagues had significant shares in the risks and profits–but not in the direction.


          Osorio obviously had ideas about changing the last point. He was–in a very conscious way, it appeared–using Lady Hrynko’s presence and power to erode Mangravite’s autocratic rule. The pudgy little man was a good deal more clever than Adele had believed.


          I wonder if he has consciously been irritating me in the expectation of how I would react when I met Mangravite? He can’t possibly be that clever, can he?


          “I won’t go into the tactics which my officers have outlined to me,” Adele said, “but we will need two additional vessels of no great force in order to eliminate the Estremadura. Under the circumstances, the rental costs will be tantamount to purchase. Because of the risk, that is.”


          What Adele had taken for a window on the wall beyond Osorio was actually a bull’s-eye mirror that provided a panorama of the entire room. There was a similar mirror in the opposite wall. They accomplished through simple optical methods what her personal data unit did by very sophisticated imaging software.


          I shouldn’t hold the Cremonans in contempt for their lack of sophistication. At any rate, I shouldn’t hold Master Osorio in contempt.


          “The additional ships will need crews, of course,” she said. “I’ll provide commanders and perhaps some key personnel, but the common spacers will be hired locally.”


          Mangravite had subsided briefly in the face of Adele’s frozen haughtiness. The business discussion had allowed him to recover, however. He said, “What do you consider the proper conversion rate between Alliance thalers and our credits, your Ladyship? Since of course we will be paying in Cremonan currency.”


          “The exchange rate doesn’t enter into the matter,” said Adele. Cazelet had briefed her on this point before she left the corvette. “I can’t pay my crew in credits–which are scarcely useful to buy rotgut in your dockside taverns! And even if I were willing, I have to buy–procure, at any rate–ships and crews. Unless you gentlemen–“


          She surveyed the room with the air of a hawk scanning a meadow for prey.


          “–and both you ladies care to provide the ships and crews out of your private resources, I’m sure that the owners will require hard currency. As will the spacers, since the blockade runners they would otherwise sign with pay in thalers. Or florins, of course.”


          The room broke into general discussion, occasionally heated. The men to Mangravite’s right and left both leaned toward him and began to speak with worried earnestness. Mangravite snarled at the beginning but then subsided. He clenched his huge fists and hunched like a lion being pelted by hail.


          Osorio smiled toward Adele in a commiserating fashion. After waiting with his hands before him for long enough to let the first edge of the arguments to pass, he rose to his feet and raised his right arm.


          “My fellow patriots!” he said, turning to sweep the room with his attention. “A moment, if you please!”


          When the level of noise reduced abruptly, Osorio said, “My friends, we are being discourteous to our guest. Please, for the honor of Cremona and of our assembly, let me discuss what I see as a possible solution. Do I have your approval?”