The Road Of Danger – Snippet 86

“I’m sorry,” Daniel said. “We have to be going now.”

They would sleep rough tonight rather than shelter in the remains of Herrero’s Farm. They would get far enough away that no vagrant breeze would bring a reminder of the smoke and death of this tomb.

The old man’s eyes opened. They were blank for a moment; then he focused on Tomas Grant and sat bolt upright.

“You!” he said, pointing a frail hand. “You did this! It’s all your doing!”

The rebel leader turned and stumbled out of the barn. He didn’t speak.

Daniel cleared his throat and said, “Yes, well. We need to be going also. Come along, Hogg.”

“In a moment,” Hogg said; he held out the shotgun to Floria. He had removed the lockplate while Daniel and the others were talking, but the weapon was back together now.

“The contacts were corroded,” he said. “That’s why it didn’t go off. I cleaned them.”

The older women shrank back. Floria took the weapon, giving Hogg a questioning look. He took three electromotive shells out of his pocket and handed them over also.

“They’re just bird shot, but they’re better than nothing,” he said. Then with a broad, terrible grin, he added, “If you don’t trust yourself with it, you could do worse than give it to the lad I took it away from. He’s young, but he’s got spirit, he does.”

Hogg looked at Daniel and said, “Much like another tyke I knowed once back t’ Bantry.”

“Come along, Hogg,” Daniel repeated. He strode out of the barn.

He had a lump in his throat.

Halta City on Cremona

The truck slewed left as it pulled up in the pall of steam hanging over the Princess Cecile. Adele grabbed the frame of the side-window again. The angle of the massive front bumper had stopped within a finger’s width of the back of the car on which Dasi and a squad of spacers had been riding.

“Sorry, lady,” Brock said in genuine apology. “I didn’t realize I’d lost my hydraulics on the right side until those yahoos dropped anchor right in front of me.”

Pasternak had shut down the corvette’s thrusters as the truck and its escorting cars turned up the quay. Adele smiled in self-mockery. If it had just been spacers returning, Pasternak–and whoever warned him of the convoy’s approach–might have continued running the thrusters at low output.

Mistress Mundy–she was always that or “ma’am,” to the Sissie‘s crew–was known to be as awkward as a blind bear. Nobody was going to increase the risk of her falling off the gangplank into the plasma-heated slip. And every Sissie in sight would dive in to save her if it happened, even those who couldn’t swim….

“No harm done,” Adele said as she stepped out into the dissipating steam. “Master Brock, I’ll do my best to see that you don’t regret this.”

“I don’t regret it now, lady,” the outfitter called after them; he was out of sight in the high cab. “But Mangravite’s going to.”

“Mangravite certainly will regret this,” said Cory as waved Tovera across the floating walkway ahead of her mistress. “So will all the other gangs who contributed troops to the affair.”

So that he’s behind to grab me if I stumble

, Adele realized. She smiled even more coldly.

He grinned and added, “We had most of them careted before I went off on my tour of the city. I’m sure Master Cazelet will have plotted the rest since then. The lairs, if you will.”

Adele crossed the gangplank and strode up the boarding ramp briskly with no difficulties–as she had expected. She felt a little miffed at this particular concern, though she would never let her shipmates know that.

Yes, she was clumsy; she would never deny that. But she had a great deal of experience in negotiating slotted-steel stairs and scaffolds which had been polished by the feet of generations of librarians. She didn’t slip on slick metal flooring.

But the Sissies were well meaning in their concern. If they were also less observant than Adele might wish, well, that was true of most people. And as a general rule, she preferred to be a blur to whom no one paid attention. Still, she deliberately mounted the companionway at a pace that pressed Cory to match.

A Power Room tech was leaning over the railing to look down from the head of the stairs on A level. He vanished when he saw Adele. His voice echoed faintly down to her, however: “Five? The mistress is on her way!”

Vesey was now captain of the Princess Cecile, but she didn’t allow the crew to refer to her as “Captain,” let alone “Six.” She remained in her mind–and in truth, in the minds of all the Sissies–Five, the corvette’s first lieutenant.

Adele walked onto the bridge while the main hatch was squealing upward and a score of lesser hatches were clanging shut. By pairs–two/four/six/and all eight–the thrusters resumed their burring; steam roared up from the harbor in response to their rainbow breath.

The signals console was already live. Cazelet must have overridden her lock. Adele didn’t think that he could have entered the Personal Access Only sectors, but–she smiled–she couldn’t be sure. She had taught Cazelet well.

Ship!” said Vesey over the PA system and the general intercom frequency. She was handling the liftoff herself, because the junior watch-standing officers were otherwise occupied. “Prepare to lift!

The main hatch banged against its coaming. When the dogs shot ringingly home to seal it, they sounded like a volley of slugs hammering the outer hull. The thrusters’ bellow became a bone-deep shudder, and steam buffeted the ship like an enormous pillow.

The dorsal turret would normally be lowered and locked during liftoff or landing. Now Adele heard its metal-to-metal gaskets squeal as it rotated.

She hadn’t given orders, but she wasn’t completely sure that her orders would be obeyed if she tried to stop what was about to happen. Officer Adele Mundy was, by the ship’s table of organization, a very junior officer indeed.

However the mistress, who had been attacked and insulted, was a person of veneration to the Sissie‘s crew. They weren’t going to ignore that.

Not that Adele had any problem with her shipmates’ response. The main reason she hadn’t given orders about what to do next was that she knew she didn’t need to.

Instead of asking a question, Adele went straight to a preset she had prepared before the Princess Cecile had begun to brake out of Cremona orbit. The harbor was protected by a pair of anti-ship missile batteries, and a third battery had been placed on what ten years before had been the edge of the city. That one had been swallowed by the northern suburbs which grew with the expansion of trade to the Sunbright rebels.

Adele didn’t want to use the plasma cannon on the emplacements, particularly the one surrounded by civilian tenements, but they had to be taken out of action if the Princess Cecile was to escape safely. Using the batteries’ own electronics to freeze the launchers in their Safe position, locked horizontal to the ground, was just as good for that purpose as blowing them up would have been.