The Road Of Danger – Snippet 79

Aloud he said, “No sir. To the best of my knowledge, Cinnabar does not support your revolution. By ‘Cinnabar’ I mean the Senate, of course. If you mean ‘public opinion on Cinnabar’ you’ll have to ask someone who knows or cares more about public opinion than I do. Than most RCN officers do, I should say.”

“It’s because of the massacres, isn’t it?” Freedom said, leaning toward Daniel and speaking with the intensity of a prophet. “You think we rebels are nothing but brutal butchers, and it horrifies you!”

Daniel tilted slightly away from the rebel leader. That was an unconscious reaction to the sort of ideological enthusiasm that had always made him uncomfortable; an attitude he had absorbed from his father without being aware of it.

“Sir,” Daniel said, “you’re asking if the Senate disapproves of your rebellion on moral grounds. No sir, it does not.”

He took a deep breath and went on, “I cannot think of a case in which I believe the Senate made a moral judgment. Personally, I wouldn’t encourage it to do such a thing, not that my political lords and masters would be interested in my opinion. The true reasoning behind the Senate’s position as I understand it–”

He shrugged and turned his palms upward, making clear his admission of his limited knowledge.

“–is that Cinnabar wants peace with the Alliance. Not out of altruism or philosophical conviction, but because the costs of decades of war have come very near to ruining the Republic.”

“The Senators aren’t horrified by all this?” Freedom said with a toss of his hand. He could have been gesturing in the direction of the pole to which hands were nailed, but Daniel suspected his intention was to indicate the whole planet. “You aren’t horrified?”

The reference to the Senate was presumably rhetorical, but the personal question was not. Daniel pressed his palms together, as though he were clapping in slow motion. Then he looked up and said, “Sir, that’s like asking me if I like the taste of purple. I’m an RCN officer, trained to consider my present environment tactically. Any present environment. If I were studying this–”

He made a gesture which was deliberately similar to Freedom’s.

“–in Xenos, in a history course, I’d look at causes and results, but I still wouldn’t be …. Sir, I’m a military officer.”

“Well, I’m horrified, Pensett,” Freedom said. He got to his feet and thrust his hands into his tunic pockets.

Two of Kidlinger’s soldiers stood ten yards away, between the irrigation pipe and the hills over which the aircar had arrived. When they stiffened in surprise, one started to topple from the planting mound he’d been standing on. He had to hop to get his balance.

“Get back!” Freedom said. “Damn you, didn’t–”

He spun suddenly and pointed his right arm at Kidlinger, who waited near the building with his remaining troops. “You, Kidlinger!” he said. “Get your buffoons out of here, back onto your truck or the street or somewhere that I don’t see them!”

“Sir, I can’t risk–” the dapper officer began.

“Get them out of my sight or I’ll declare you an outlaw!” Freedom said. “Do you understand? I’ll double the price for the outgoing payload to the unit that takes your head. Do you doubt me?”

“Reyes, Ignacio!” Kidlinger called. His voice was controlled, but there was just enough fear in it to show that he did understand. “Get back to the truck now!”

He bowed and said, “I’ll be waiting against the wall of the house when you need me, sir.”

Freedom watched him for a moment, then sat again on the pipe and patted the place beside him where Daniel had been sitting a moment before. Daniel grinned and took the seat. Their backs were to Kidlinger and the town; before them, the hills softened with the approach of sunset.

“Alliance rule was a evil thing,” the rebel said softly. “At best it would have been burdensome to people who had generally kept themselves to themselves, but Governor Blaskett is a brute: a thief and worse. When he can’t coerce a respectable woman into his bed by threat or lead her there by bribes, he sends troops to drag her from her house.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that, sir,” Daniel said.

That was true, but the practical reality was that backwaters tended to get administrators who couldn’t be trusted anywhere more significant. He had seen that the quality of some of the fellows sent out from Xenos wasn’t a great deal higher.

Freedom didn’t respond immediately, leaving Daniel to wonder if he should have held his tongue. It was hard to tell how one was supposed to react to a statement like that about people you–and probably the person speaking–have never met.

“I don’t care about what happens to Cinnabar or the Alliance either one,” Freedom blurted. “If two gangs of exploiters want to bludgeon each other to death, let them. I care about the simple, decent farmers of Sunbright who were being crushed by injustice!”

“Go on,” Daniel said. He nodded, his face expressionless.

The peasants of Bantry weren’t simple. They had different tastes in art from those of rich city folk, and they didn’t talk much about philosophy, but the years Daniel had spent in the closest contact with Hogg didn’t allow him to say that he understood his servant; just that he could often predict what Hogg would say or do. As for decent–

He grinned broadly. For a moment he didn’t care what the rebel leader thought about his expression.