The Road Of Danger – Snippet 72


CHAPTER 19: Halta City on Cremona


          Osorio’s driver set the aircar down on the apron in front of the three-story brick warehouse. Adele had asked to borrow him with the vehicle. Not only was the fellow very skillful, he could stay with the car while she and Tovera were inside. There were bollards to keep trucks away from the building except at the loading docks, but he had simply skimmed over them.


          “I’ll do my best, mistress,” Tovera said as she eyed the Wartburg Company headquarters. “But there’ll be a lot of places to snipe from inside, and if we have to fight our way down from the penthouse….”


          The walls on the ground floor were solid, though orbital imagery had showed that there were windows on the courtyard side. The warehouse wasn’t air conditioned, so the multi-pane casements on center pivots the length of the second and third floors were necessary for ventilation as well as for light during daytime. The glass was clear, in a manner of speaking, but its coating of grime would block vision as thoroughly as muslin curtains.


          “We’ll hope it doesn’t come to that, Tovera,” Adele said austerely as she started for the pedestrian door which had been propped open by what seemed to be the stator of an electric motor. “Master Brock agreed politely to meet me in his office, after all, so I can scarcely object to where that office is, can I?”


          Adele wore a russet pants-suit rather than formal robes. She was no longer the technological illiterate she had portrayed on Madison and had intended to remain on Cremona. Her current role–for this too was acting; she was acting in all her appearances outside the hull of the Princess Cecile, which had become her real family home–was that of a well-born woman from a world more sophisticated than Cremona.


          She smiled mentally. That would be true for a real Principal of Kostroma, and Mundy of Chatsworth on Cinnabar was all those things in spades.


          The racket inside the warehouse was punishingly louder than it had been in the street, even with the door open. Fans thrummed in the ceiling, diesel-powered fork lifts blatted under heavy load, and paired elevators–when her eyes adapted, Adele saw a set at each corner of this wing–squealed and groaned. Presumably all the same things were happening on the upper floors, adding their counterpoints.


          The light banks in the ceiling were probably adequate, but for the first moments after Adele entered, she had the impression of having fallen into a deep cavern. The massive wooden beams of the ceiling were covered with soot which absorbed any illumination that fell on them. Workmen were wraiths, dwarfed by the machinery and the piles of goods among which they moved.


          Adele led the way along the aisle, between the front wall and stacks of large crates which often encroached on the passage painted in yellow on the floor. The section foreman was in a miniature office whose walls were glass from above waist height. The three loading docks were beyond him, and a passenger elevator was just in back.


          That elevator, like its larger brethren at the ends of the building, was a platform riding between two pillars without a cage. Again like the freight elevators, it was one of a pair on the same cables; one rose as a counterweight when the other half dropped.


          The foreman was alone in the office, glaring at a flat-plate display and growling into a handset cradled between his ear and shoulder. Adele tapped on the glass politely. The foreman angrily waved them away.


          Does he think I was asking his permission? Adele entered and sat down.


          She didn’t hear the door close behind Tovera so much as she felt the level of ambient noise reduce. The office must have an active cancellation system.


          “Get your bloody asses out!” the man said with a brusque wave of the hand holding a memorandum book. “I’ll tell you when I’m ready to see you!”


          Adele brought out her data unit. She shrank the foreman’s display and froze the console. That shut off his phone also, since outside communications were through it.


          “I am Principal Hrynko,” she said, her tone coldly polite. “I have an appointment with Master Brock.”


          “What in blazes happened to my console?” the foreman said, flipping the external power switch back and forth with no result except faint mechanical clicks from the toggle. “It just cut out!”


          It would be nice if I lived in a world in which people were either smarter or more polite, Adele thought, not for the first time. But I’ve learned to make do with what I have.


          Aloud she said, “Your equipment will not work until you have taken me to Master Brock. I suggest you do that so that you can go back to your business.”


          The foreman stared at her, his lower lip trembling. He was a brawny man in his fifties. A thin scar curved across his scalp, turning the hair white along its track, and he was missing the lobe of his right ear.


          “Are you a witch?” he said in hoarse surmise.


          Adele blinked. I thought Cremona was unsophisticated. Apparently it’s simply backward.


          “More like a demon if you irritate her,” said Tovera. “I suggest you do what she says and avoid that danger. Of course–“


          Tovera smiled. The expression was inhuman, which was an accurate description of the pale woman herself.


          “–I wouldn’t need to be irritated to open your belly and start winding your guts out on a stick. Why don’t you take us to your master and avoid that too?”


          “The elevator,” said the foreman, twisting his head enough to suggest the one beside his office. He didn’t turn too far to keep his eyes on Adele, however. “Just pull the cord when you get on and pull it again when you’re at the penthouse.”


          “Thank you,” said Adele. The platform would be tight enough for two, so she didn’t object to the plan. She turned on his console and got to her feet.


          The noise buffeted her when she stepped out, but she had a direction now and didn’t notice distractions. The foreman was still gaping as she and Tovera walked around the office. He seemed to have forgotten the phone in his left hand.