The Road Of Danger – Snippet 78

The elevator squealed downward. Adele put her data unit away and took the pistol from her pocket.

All things considered, the situation was rather better than it had seemed to be a minute ago.

Kotzebue on Sunbright

“I hope you don’t mind staying outside,” said Freedom as he hopped over the ditch in which Daniel had been watching the deceptively predatory fish. “Riely’s office reminds me of a prison cell. I don’t need an early experience of that.”

Daniel had been surprised to find that he and the rebel leader were pretty much of an age. The latter was slim and an inch taller than Daniel’s five-foot nine; he looked fit but not athletic.

“You’re in charge, sir,” Daniel said. “But regardless, I prefer to be outdoors myself.”

Kidlinger and four of his troops were following closely; the driver and the other pair were with the vehicle in front. Rather too closely, it seemed to Daniel, and apparently not only to him.

Freedom turned and snapped, “Keep your distance if you please, Captain. You are not cleared for some of the information which Lieutenant Pensett has brought for me.”

Freedom sat on a dry irrigation conduit mounted on knee-high posts; he started to pull off his loose coveralls. Underneath he wore a plain shirt with trousers and a matching jacket. It was the outfit of an office worker anywhere in the Alliance or the Cinnabar empire.

Daniel, working the coveralls over Freedom’s ankle boots, looked at him and said, “I’m surprised to meet you, sir. That is, surprised by the person I’m meeting.”

The other man laughed humorlessly. “Do you doubt I’m who I said I am?” he asked. “Perhaps I should have business cards printed? Freedom, Revolutions a Specialty. Address: the Wilderness, Sunbright.”

Daniel laughed also, but without the bitterness. He sat beside Freedom and reached into his cargo pocket.

“Riely and Kidlinger both vouch for you,” he said, bringing out the document case and giving it to the rebel leader. “Given that they don’t seem to care for one another very much, I’ll accept their joint identification.”

He paused and added with a grin to take the edge off the truth, “I wouldn’t mind seeing the back of Captain Kidlinger myself.”

Freedom opened the document case, proving that his DNA matched the lock settings. That implied that the case could be used to identify the rebel leader. Daniel knew how to engage the self-destruct mode already–the case was RCN standard, after all–but the Chief should have emphasized the necessity of doing so if there were danger of it falling into Alliance hands.

Of course, it might be that the Chief didn’t care about the safety of any of the pawns in the game he was playing. Daniel was starting to figure out what that game was.

Instead of putting the chips into a reader–or using the one built into the case–Freedom looked at Daniel and said, “You’re from Cinnabar itself, aren’t you, Pensett?”

“Yessir,” Daniel said. “From the west coast.”

The real Kirby Pensett had been born in the Eastern Highlands. From things he had said when they were drinking in the same group of an evening, he had joined the RCN in the hope that it was send him only to planets where there were no words for “sheep” or “wool.”

Daniel thought he was better off lying about his character’s background than he would be trying to affect a Highlands accent. Besides, it was unlikely that a rebel on Sunbright had access to the amount of background information on RCN officers that the puppet master on Madison did.

Freedom absently tapped the single chip nested in the open case. He looked at Daniel and said, “This will be a list of weapons purchased, where they’ll be landed, and the amount of rice which must be exchanged for them. So that we can move the anti-ship batteries into place as needed.”

He gestured toward the center of Kotzebue, where the mobile battery sat adjacent to the makeshift landing field. The triple launcher wasn’t visible from where they sat, but Daniel had examined it through the Savoy‘s optics while they waited for the plasma-heated ground to cool enough to open the hatch.

Nothing less rugged than a starship could stay airborne in the hail of automatic impeller slugs which Kotzebue could throw up. In theory ships of the Funnel Squadron could sweep in low from several directions and overwhelm the missile defenses too.

In practice, the entirety of Kotzebue wasn’t worth a single starship. Taking a risk of losing three ships in a matter of seconds if the battery crew knew what it was doing would be insane.

“It doesn’t matter who provides the rice, which battalion or company or gang, you see,” Freedom said. “I’m the face of the revolution, but there isn’t really a leader. Or perhaps money is the leader. Money’s become the god of the revolution!”

Daniel didn’t speak. Freedom’s train of thought was seemed to be going in a very useful direction already.

“I asked if you were from Cinnabar, Pensett,” Freedom said, suddenly sharp again. It was like watching a gleaming fish leap up from the Slough of Despair. “Does Cinnabar support the revolution on Sunbright? Be honest! Don’t worry about what I want to hear.”

Unlike Adele, Daniel wasn’t above shading the truth–or even of throwing a heavy drape over the truth and beating it with a stick, if the girl was pretty enough. He didn’t see any cause to have done that here, however. And besides–

I don’t have the faintest idea of what you want to hear, Master Freedom, he thought.