The Road Of Danger – Snippet 74


          But she trembled slightly. Brock had started to get up from his chair but chanced to meet Adele’s eyes. He subsided with a suddenly wary expression.


          “I regret that I have to do this, Master Brock,” Adele said, as calm as ice again, “but have you considered the legal situation in which you might find yourself if your activities came to the attention of the authorities?”


          Brock blinked, trying to make sense out of what he had just heard. “What are you talking about, woman?” he said. “I’m not violating any laws, and I don’t suppose it’s a secret that the government here–the people in the government, I don’t know how much money trickles through to the treasury–are making a bloody good thing out of the operations of the Wartburg Company.”


          Adele completed the operation her wands had just directed. She met the outfitter’s eyes again and smiled, in a manner of speaking.


          “I’ve just transferred some information to your console, sir,” she said. “Will you please take a look at it? It will be there when you bring your display up.”


          “What the hell?” Brock said, again puzzled. He punched his virtual keyboard, however. His keystrokes were as forceful as Daniel’s own.


          “What is this?” he said, shrinking the hologram again to look at Adele.


          “That’s the report which will go to the 5th Bureau if you refuse to provide the loan I request, sir,” Adele said primly. “And this–“


          Her wands fluttered like ballet dancers executing a complex routine.


          “–is the list of your relatives and associates living within Alliance territory. That’s mostly Pleasaunce, of course, but also Conbay, Mortain, and half a dozen other worlds. That list will accompany my report, though–“


          She coughed delicately.


          “–in my experience, the 5th Bureau would be able to compile it very nearly as quickly as they can read my copy. I find the Alliance of Free Stars to be a marvel of bureaucratic organization.”


          Brock’s lips moved silently for a moment as he read. He slid the display to the side and looked at Adele.


          “How did…,” he began in a growl that was barely human. He stopped himself. “It doesn’t matter how you learned this stuff, does it?” he said, more normally. “It wouldn’t matter even it wasn’t straight, not with the 5th Bureau doing the checking.”


          He slammed his right fist down on the desk, the only external sign of his fury.


          “Which it is, as much as I say off the top of my head,” he said, almost conversational again.


          He paused, his face hardening. “You’re not a monkey from Kostroma, though, are you?” he said. “Who are you? You’re bloody 5th Bureau yourself, aren’t you? It doesn’t matter whether I play ball or not, it’s over–“


          Brock’s hand jerked violently toward his holographic display.


          “–for all these anyway!”


          “It doesn’t matter who I am,” Adele said calmly. “But it matters a great deal to your off-planet associates that you accept my business proposition. Of that you can be assured.”


          Brock said nothing for a moment. He gestured to the display again and said, mildly this time, “Are you going to strong-arm all the trading houses like this? Or is it just me?”


          “I have appointments with the other two large houses which have links within the Alliance,” Adele said. “Coincidentally, you three are the largest firms on Cremona. That spreads the risk enough that none of the houses involved needs feel that it’s being backed into a corner. I don’t want anyone to–”


          She grinned slightly.


          “–be driven to desperate measures.”


          “How quick do you need an answer?” Brock said.


          “I’ll be back in two days,” Adele said, rising. “After I’ve discussed the proposition with Santina Trading and Loesser Brothers.”


          “All right,” said Brock. “I’ll have an answer then.”


          Adele started for the door to the outer office. Tovera, who had been standing beside the doorway throughout the interview, said, “Master Brock?”


          “Eh?” Brock said, frowning as though his stylus had just spoken to him.


          “It doesn’t matter who she is,” Tovera said, nodding toward Adele. “But I used to be 5th Bureau. You might keep that in mind in case you decide your best plan is that we have an accident here in the building.”


          Unexpectedly, Brock laughed. “I didn’t build this company without learning how to handle your type, mistress,” he said. “Sure, it’d cost, but there’s always costs. Your boss, though–“


          He dipped his head in a seated bow.


          “–I can’t handle, not even if I kill her. So don’t worry about tripping down the elevator shaft.”


          Adele led the way into the outer office. The secretary eyed them warily.


          Behind her, she heard Tovera say to the secretary, “You’re lucky, little fellow. Your boss is a lot smarter than most.”


Kotzebue on Sunbright


          Daniel was watching the ditch behind Riely’s storehouse when the apparent fish bobbed to the surface, just as it had done on the two previous evenings. It was the length of his finger, white and swollen as though it had already begun to decay.


          Hogg stood six feet away, far enough that he wouldn’t disturb his master’s observations. Under his breath, he sang, “Grieve, oh grieve, oh tell me why….”


          A pair of winged insectoids came from opposite directions, drawn by the shining white belly. Both were females, looking for carrion in which to insert their eggs. They dodged back and forth, neither willing to settle until she was certain that the other wasn’t a predator preparing to attack when her ovipositor was sunk too deeply to be quickly withdrawn.


          Hogg didn’t move very much. He turned his head, and occasionally his torso twisted in order to allow him to scan the terrain in all directions. His left hand was in his pocket, but his right was loose and never very far from the stocked impeller leaning unobtrusively against the drainpipe from the roof of the building.


          “Because he had more gold than I…,” Hogg sang.


          One of the insectoids eased toward the fish by tenths of an inch, two forward and one back. At last she touched, then settled on her eight jointed legs. A hair-fine ovipositor uncoiled from her tail, probed the fish, and finally straightened to stab downward. Nearly its whole half-inch length sank in.


          “But gold will melt and silver fly–“