The Road Of Danger – Snippet 83

The shooter leaned out from the back seat, aiming a stocked impeller. It would be an awkward weapon to use from a platform circling above the rooftops while keeping a hundred yards out from its target, but a hit with it would rip through the truck’s capacitor bank as easily as it would any of those riding.

Tovera shot, but the light pellets of her sub-machine gun weren’t accurate at half that range and the gunman was wearing a helmet with face shield. The impeller lifted from recoil; from the muzzle puffed metal which the coils’ electromagnetic flux had vaporized. The slug ticked the roof of the cab and rang through the truck bed. If Tovera had been in the way, then Adele had lost a frequently valuable servant.

Adele ducked back inside, dropped her pistol on the seat, and took the larger weapon from Brock’s lap. He said, “What–”

“Drive!” Adele said. She leaned on the window frame again, presenting the heavy pistol.

The car was traversing clockwise. The impeller recoiled, but the slug hit nothing useful this time. Adele shot and shot again. Brock’s pistol jolted back harder than she was used to, so it took longer than the usual heartbeat for her to bring the sights in line.

The impeller dropped, spinning like a tossed baton; the shooter had slipped into the car’s interior. The car reversed its curve to dive away to the left.

Adele shot, aimed, and shot again. The aircar turned on its back. Two bodies spun away before the vehicle dropped out of sight behind the buildings. There was probably a crash, but the sound of the shredded front tire slapping the truck’s wheel well was too loud to hear much over.

“Bloody hell, woman!” Brock said, but even now he didn’t turn to look at Adele instead of watching the road. “What did you do? How did you do that?”

Adele picked up her own pistol in her right hand. It had charred a streak in the upholstery fabric, and the foam padding beneath had started to melt; there was a smear of it on the titanium shroud.

“Do what?” she said. “I shot the gunman and his driver, if that’s what you mean.”

If she understood the question, it was absurd. It was like being asked what the bright thing lifting over the eastern horizon at dawn was.

“From a moving truck, you shot down an aircar with a pistol?” Brock said.

The road kinked again, this time a fairly sharp left. Ahead was a convoy of cars two abreast–civilian and probably commandeered at gunpoint. Spacers sat on window sills and on the roofs of the vehicles, armed to the teeth.

“Friends!” called Tovera, who wasn’t dead after all. I should have checked, I suppose. “It’s the Sissies come to get us!”

“It’s a very good pistol,” Adele said, setting the weapon down between them. The barrel was too warm to be laid on an ally’s lap. “If you hadn’t brought it, we would have been in difficulties.”

She leaned out the side window and waved her little pistol in the air. It would be embarrassing to be shot dead by her rescuers. She knew that the Sissie‘s crew, though faultlessly brave, was more likely to demonstrate enthusiasm than fire discipline.

“I suppose you can drop us here, Master Brock,” Adele said. “I appreciate your help. As soon as possible, I will pay for the damages you’ve incurred in this business. Assuming I survive, of course.”

Cars were turning around or parking on the sidewalks so that Sissies could pile aboard the big truck. Cory, holding a sub-machine gun, jumped onto the running board and cried, “Mistress, you’re all right?”

“Yes, Lieutenant,” Adele said. “Thanks to your timely warning, I am.”

There was room ahead to get through safely; Brock started the battered truck rolling forward again. “If it’s all the same, lady,” he said, “I’ll take you to the dock. This has been the first real excitement I’ve had in twenty years.”

He barked a laugh. “And I’m bloody glad,” he added, “that I picked the right side!”


The horizontal line below the horizon ahead was too even not to be manmade, but that was all Daniel could tell with his unaided eyes. He thought again of putting on his commo helmet. The visor’s magnification would be useful, and he could switch to the infrared spectrum to search the landscape for camouflaged watchers.

“Careful!” Freedom–Tomas Grant–warned. The level of the surface didn’t change, but boggy soil became a shallow pool. The car lurched; brown water sprayed to all sides.

A commo helmet looked military and more than that would be the only one Daniel had seen thus far on Sunbright. Presumably they were in general use among the Alliance garrison in Saal, but that was an even better reason not to wear one here in the backcountry. A helmet’s round outline was unique for as far as it could be seen, and a stocked impeller was deadly at equal range with the right marksman behind it.

The car’s underside ticked the lip of the other side of the pool as they came up; the vehicle lofted a hand’s breadth into the air and flopped down again uncomfortably. Daniel grunted, though he had braced himself on his arms when he saw what was coming. Hogg cursed in a tone of familiar misery.

Daniel was in the passenger seat, though he and Hogg had traded several times. The luggage was tied onto the frame of the vehicle so that the extra man could squat in the luggage space behind. It was too narrow for Hogg’s hips, but at least he wouldn’t slip off if the aircar slammed hard on a bump.

The car didn’t have enough power to fly safely with three grown men aboard, so they were travelling the entire three hundred miles in ground effect. That was better than wobbling to a sudden crash from fifty feet up, but the ride hadn’t been a lot of fun so far and Daniel expected it to get worse.

“That’s the Grain Web,” Grant said, glancing to the side and gesturing toward the line Daniel had been watching. “Part of what was completed, anyway. That’s really what convinced people to support the revolt, you know.”

Daniel thought back to the briefing materials he had studied during the voyage from Madison. Adele had loaded them into his helmet and had included a very good natural history database.

“How is a rail system a cause for revolt?” he said. “From–well, to an outsider like me, it looks more efficient to get the rice to market by hauling it cheaply to Saal where bigger ships could land. Everybody gains.”

“It would be a very efficient way for the person at the center of the Web to control everything,” Grant said. “Which would have concerned the farmers even if they hadn’t had experience of Blaskett already. And it would have cut out the small shippers, since they couldn’t compete with long-haul vessels. Big ships would have ten times the capacity and could carry the rice straight to Cinnabar or Pleasaunce without transshipping.”

Grant canted the steering yoke to the right, angling to mount a waist-high dike. He must use the car in ground effect frequently, because he maneuvered with the skill of practice. Control inputs were quite different from what would be necessary if the vehicle had been airborne and could bank.