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The Road of Danger: Chapter Eighteen
Last updated: Friday, February 24, 2012 20:18 EST
Kotzebue on Sunbright
“All right, open the hatch!” Daniel called toward the entry hold. The Savoy had no method of internal communication beyond the unaided human voice, so he had to shout if he didn’t want to walk into the hold himself. That would have meant leaving the console, which was the only way he could view their surroundings until the hatch was down.
Instead of the carillon of hydraulic pumps withdrawing the dogs securing the Sissie‘s main hatch, the yawl provided a squeal, a metal-to-metal screech, and finally a clunk. A moment later steam, ozone, and the stench of burned organic matter puffed from the hold into the crew capsule.
They’d landed in a former rice paddy. It was obvious that manure had been used to fertilize the crop.
“Well, that’s bloody pathetic,” Hogg said. He stood to the left of the console, holding a carbine for himself and the other for Daniel if the occasion warranted. He could have been referring to any one of several things and been correct.
The yawl’s exterior sensor was a low-resolution optical lens. It was supposed to rotate fully but instead stuck within ten degrees of ninety. Daniel hoped that was the most important wedge to see, since it showed anybody approaching the hatch. He couldn’t help wondering, though, if there was a bloody great plasma cannon aimed at their port side.
A small flatbed with seven floatation tires and a much smaller road tire was angling toward the yawl’s hatch. Two men rode in the open cab and two more–holding carbines–in the back. The paddy’s thin mud formed an undulating wake, but the tires weren’t sinking to the wheel disks.
“That’s Riely,” said Lindstrom, who had been leaning over Daniel’s right shoulder to view the display. She straightened. “It’s all right, then.”
Hogg snorted, but that was probably true. Lindstrom was already walking toward the hatch. Daniel rose and said, “If you’re leaving the cabin, we’ll need somebody on the console.”
“There’s no need,” said Lindstrom. “We’ll still be aboard.”
Daniel had landed close enough to a dike that one could enter or leave the Savoy without necessarily sinking to the knees in muck, but it was a quarter mile to a cross-dike which led to the town straggling along the unflooded slope. The four crewmen were watching out the main hatch, waiting for a ride in the truck.
Each man clutched a purse of Alliance thalers, payment for the outward run. Spacers preferred coins to credit chips in the dives that serviced them. They could still be cheated when they were given change, but it wasn’t quite as easy. There was a Sunbright currency, but apparently nobody used it.
“Hargate, watch the display for now,” Daniel said as though the owner hadn’t spoken. “The lens is higher than we’re going to be, so if somebody comes toward us and you’re not sure they’re friendly, give a shout so we’re ready to discuss it with them, all right?”
“Hey, I’m looking forward to a proper drink, you know,” the spacer complained, but he went into the crew capsule as directed anyway. He glanced at Lindstrom, but she pretended not to see him.
“If there’s a proper drink to be had up there,” Hogg said to Daniel, nodding to the lights of the town, “then I’m a choirboy. But there’s some sort of popskull, and I figure he’s no fussier than I am.”
“Are you expecting trouble, Pensett?” Lindstrom said as the truck slowed to turn parallel to the dike across which the ship waited. The paddies were scarred by perhaps a hundred previous landings. They were no longer in production, as best Daniel had been able to tell from orbit with the yawl’s sensors, but continued irrigation made them a safe if messy place for blockade runners to land.
Three craft similar to the Savoy were already on the ground. A hopper car of pink rice waited beside a cutter two fields out, where half a dozen stevedores manhandled the inbound cargo onto trailers. The tractor pulling them mounted an automatic impeller on a ring on the roof.
Daniel let his wrist brush the document case in his cargo pocket to reassure himself. “No,” he said truthfully.
He was pretty sure the Savoy had outrun anybody who might have sent a message to Sunbright about what he was carrying. “Still,” he said, “the situation here is fluid–and if that turns out to mean there’s a gullywasher on the way, I’d rather know it sooner rather than later.”
Riely’s truck pulled up with a final slosh of mud. A slender, bent-looking man wearing knee boots stepped from the driver’s seat onto the dike. He was probably in his early thirties, but his slouch made him look decades older in the poor illumination from the yawl’s hold.
“Master?” Hogg said quietly, pressing the butt of the extra carbine into Daniel’s thigh to remind him of it. Instead of speaking, Daniel waved off his servant with his open left palm.
Riely hopped onto the yawl’s ramp; his companion, a dull-looking, heavy-set, man, followed with a thump. The guards remained on the vehicle.
“I got the manifest you radioed down from orbit, Lindstrom,” Riely said without enthusiasm. “If it checks out, I’ll be able to fill your hold with the rice and there’ll still be some on account. If, mind you.”
“The lasers are there,” Kiki said. “When can you start loading? Because I don’t want to spend any longer here than I need to.”
“Neither do I,” the agent said, shaking his head in dismay. “I don’t know how much longer I can stand this. It’s worse–”
Gunfire crackled from the town: a short burst, probably a sub-machine gun. Daniel’s head turned, but there was nothing to see in the darkness; Hogg started to present the carbine in his right hand, but he lowered it again before he’d gotten the stock to his shoulder.
“It was too far away for a pellet to even reach us,” Daniel said mildly. “Even if it’d been aimed this way.”
“Bloody buggering hell,” Riely whispered toward his boots. He looked up, suddenly sharper, and said to Daniel, “You’re the courier to Freedom?”
“Yes,” said Daniel. “You transmitted my message to him?”
He had sent the message, as directed, in a standard Alliance administrative code–the sort of thing that would be used for personnel records, but with a few changes which would prevent an unmodified receiver from translating it. That said, an experienced signals officer could decode it quickly, and an expert–let alone Adele–could do it in his sleep. It kept complete outsiders from reading the contents, but little more.
“I sent it on through the missile battery,” Riely said, gesturing vaguely toward the town. “They’ve got a link to the system, I don’t. Look, come back to my office with me. I want to talk with you.”
“Not before you’ve checked the cargo,” Lindstrom snapped.
“Mayer can do that,” said the agent. “Mayer, you and Mistress Lindstrom go over the manifest. I’ll send the car back for you as soon as I’ve gotten to the office.”
“I’m coming,” said West.
“And me!” said Hargate, joining the others in the compartment.
“Hey!” said Lindstrom. “You’re not leaving me here alone. And Hogg, hand over those guns. They stay with the ship.”
Daniel thought briefly. “Hogg,” he said, “give Mistress Lindstrom one of the carbines. Mistress, we’ll return the other as soon as we’re able to find something of our own, which I don’t think will be hard in this environment.”
As if to underscore his remark, there was a single gunshot and the Crack! whee-e-e of a ricochet from the south end of town. Daniel grinned.
“And Edmonson, you stay with her till she releases you,” he added.
“Who do you think you are to give orders to me!” said the outraged spacer.
Hogg straightened his left arm and tossed Lindstrom the carbine Daniel had refused. Facing Edmonson he growled, “Who he is, boyo, is the fellow who’s going to kick your balls up between your ears. Just like he did your buddy Petrov. Remember?”
“Oh, screw you both,” the space muttered, but he said it as he turned and hopped into the crew capsule quickly enough to dodge a boot if Hogg had decided to aim one at him. Instead Hogg smiled, though Edmonson’s quick retreat had probably saved him a kick–or a jab with a buttstock.
“I never checked in a cargo by myself,” whined Mayer.
“Well, then it’s bloody well time that you learned how!” the agent said. He stepped to the dike, then into the vehicle’s cab and slid behind the steering yoke. “All right, get aboard those of you who’re coming. Pensett, you sit in the front with me.”
Daniel obeyed with a faint smile. The agent–his contact with Freedom as well as the consignee on this cargo of contraband–should be more polite, even though he didn’t know he was dealing with a Leary of Bantry.
On the other hand, teaching Riely to keep a civil tongue in his head wouldn’t benefit the needs of the Republic. The poor fellow was obviously feeling the strain.
They pulled away from the dike. The vehicle wasn’t articulated, but all eight wheels were steerable. Daniel had always found that kind of system to be more trouble than it was worth, but Riely used it expertly. They crossed the paddy at a rumbling trot, keeping just below the speed at which the big tires would rain mud on everyone aboard.
“Have you met Freedom in the past, Pensett?” the agent said. He kept his eyes on the terrain and his hands on the yoke.
“No,” said Daniel. “And I’ve never been on Sunbright before. Is there much fighting in this region?”
“It depends what you mean,” Riely said. “If you mean with the government, no. Alliance troops only leave their enclaves in heavily armed convoys, except sometimes a squad of Special Troops lifts by spaceship from Saal and inserts into waste country to raid on foot. Kotzebue is five hundred kilometers from Saal and there’s too many people with guns around here to make a commando raid better than suicide. There’s at least a dozen gangs, and most of them have mortars and automatic impellers by this time.”
He twitched the steering yoke, angling to intersect the steep bank at a precise ninety degrees. That puzzled Daniel for a moment: his own reflex would have been to approach at a grazing angle to reduce the effective slope. Then he realized that this truck had a high center of gravity and was likely to overturn on a sideslope.
I suppose I can accept a certain lack of courtesy from a driver as good as he is, Daniel thought, letting the smile show.
“But if you mean fighting as in people killing each other every bloody night…,” said Riely, “that we’ve got in plenty. If the gangs don’t have the Alliance to fight–and they don’t–they’ll fight each other or just shoot anybody who happens to be around!”
He slowed slightly as the front wheels touched the bank, then fed in more power to climb at a steady rate. At the top he paused momentarily so that when they toppled onto level ground the front axles took the shock without slamming them all forward.
The truck turned right on the broad, unpaved street. The permanent buildings–or semi-permanent; some were solid framed but fabric roofed–were all on the left, but there were hovels of various sorts on top of the dike.
Some were commercial, in the sense of three-sided cribs for cheap whores or a thimble-riggers table; most just provided a bum with a modicum of protection from the weather. Since there was no street lighting and vehicle headlights were likely to be mud-covered, the shanties must be driven over fairly often. Presumably nobody cared very much, including the victims.
The establishment just ahead to the left must have a fusion generator; the frontage was as brightly lighted as that of a spaceport terminal. Its walls of earth stabilized with a plasticizer were only waist high, and the louvered shutters which would keep out rain had been swung up against the corrugated roof. The lights threw a broad fan of illumination across the road and the wooden pole–a tree trunk–on the edge of the dike.
For a moment the pole was a blur at the edge of his vision, less interesting than the act on the stage of the dive across the street. Then Daniel jerked his head around and reached for the helmet in his bag. He wasn’t wearing it because the distinctive outline would call attention to him, but he very much wanted the magnification and light-intensification that its visor would have provided.
“What is that, Riely?” he demanded. “That pole? It seems to be covered with human hands!”
“They’re hands,” Hogg confirmed from the truck bed. “Some ‘ve been there long enough to dry, too, but from the pong there’s plenty of fresher ones too.”
“They were traitors,” Riely said, driving on at a sedate twenty miles per hour. There were plenty of pedestrians, alone or in pairs and gaggles, but thus far at least the truck had avoided them, or vice versa. “Or somebody said they were traitors.”
He glanced at Daniel, the first time he had taken his eyes off his driving. “And I don’t know what they did to make them traitors,” he said. “You’d have to ask the people who killed them about that. Though I recommend you don’t, because anyone who could give you a truthful answer would be likely to consider the question traitorous.”
Riely stopped in front of a building with the look of a blockhouse or a prison. A man with a slung carbine swung open the gate into the walled yard; the automatic impeller in the roof cupola was pointing north down the street toward the bulk of the town.
The agent got down from his side as Daniel and Hogg swung from theirs. To Daniel’s surprise, that left only the guards in the back; the Savoy‘s crew must have jumped off during the truck’s saunter down the Strip.
“Garmin,” Riely said, “you and Kelly drive back for Mayer. Tell him to radio from the ship when the manifest is cleared.”
They entered through the gate with Hogg walking backward behind them to watch the street. Daniel said, “Is Kotzebue the only place like this? That’s in this condition, I mean.”
“No, it bloody isn’t,” Riely said bitterly. “It’s the whole planet, or it will be before long. And when it’s over, there won’t be anybody outside the enclaves. The rice won’t be planted because the farmers are dead, and the gangsters will have left because there’s nobody around to rob. And I guess I’ll have gone. Or maybe I won’t, I’ll be dead too.”
He took a deep breath. For a moment he looked ancient, a skull covered with parchment skin. He said, “You can wait here, Pensett. I don’t know how long it’ll be before somebody contacts you. I just pass on messages. After that, it’s out of my hands.”
Riely opened the steel door into his warehouse, then looked over his shoulder to meet Daniel’s eyes. “It’s none of my business,” he said. “You do what you please. But what I advise you to do is get off this hellhole as quickly as you can. Because it’s only going to get worse.”
Two pistol shots sounded, in the street but very close. Somebody screamed until a third shot silenced her.
Riely shut the door behind them.
Halta City on Cremona
Adele gripped the sidepanel as Osorio’s driver pulled the aircar into a tight spiral to keep up speed as they landed in the tight space. Tovera would probably have tried to drop vertically on lift alone. The driver seemed skillful, so he was probably correct in doubting that this car’s fans could safely hold it in a hover.
The bow lifted slightly as they touched down, killing their forward velocity in less than a foot after contact. They were between a pair of ground cars decorated in an ornately tacky fashion; one seemed to ape an animal-drawn carriage. The several additional vehicles included another aircar.
Tovera looked at the parked cars as she got out. “Hogg would be very impressed,” she said, so dryly that a stranger would not have heard the implied sneer.
Osorio’s presence had prevented Adele from gathering information about the building they’d arrived at. It was built around a courtyard with a three-story front and two stories on the remaining sides. It seemed to be a hotel, though Adele’s glimpse of the legend painted on the porte-cochere had been too brief to be certain.
Less than a minute with my data unit would tell me so much!
Unfortunately, it might also tell the locals too much about Principal Hrynko. She had chosen not even to wear an earbud, though Cazelet would send a warning by way of Tovera if his data search turned up a problem.
Adele almost smiled. While Cazelet pored through records, Cory was using satellites to keep a real-time watch on the building and its surroundings. She supposed that with assistants of their quality, she could afford to take an hour off for other duties.
Master Osorio waited until Tovera was before until he climbed out of the car. He had squeezed himself as tightly as possible into the left side, facing Tovera with his knees drawn up to his chest.
She had merely smirked during the short flight. Adele was grateful for her restraint, but she probably wouldn’t have intervened if Tovera had chosen to needle Osorio further. The little man and his presumptions had been offensive from the first.
Adele had no idea of what her servant’s sexual proclivities were. The subject didn’t interest her to begin with, and she was fairly certain that nothing she learned about Tovera’s personal life would help her sleep better at night.
There were a number of men, probably chauffeurs, chatting with inn-servants around a large outside sink. The aircar’s driver went to join them without asking permission.
Osorio fluffed his garments, then beamed professionally toward Adele. “Very well,” he said. “I see that my colleagues are already present. We will go in and introduce you!”
“Indeed,” Adele said without inflexion. “Get on with it then, sir.”
Doors in each two-story block opened into the courtyard. Osorio wove around the back of the carriage and minced to the larger arched doorway directly opposite the passage through to the street in the front.
Adele expected to see guards, but though the open barroom to the left was boisterously full of beer-drinking attendants, none of them appeared to her to be armed. Tovera’s expert opinion might differ, but at any rate she wasn’t walking into the armed camp she had expected of a conclave of clan leaders on a backward world.
Perhaps she had done Cremona an injustice. But perhaps not.
A watchful attendant opened the door on the right side of the hallway. Osorio nodded and said, “Lady Hrynko will enter with me.”
“As will my aide,” Adele said, before the attendant–or potentially much worse, Tovera herself–could speak.
Osorio grimaced without looking at Adele and said, “Yes, yes, both of them since it must be!”
People–almost all of them men–had turned to the door when it opened. An oval table with six matching wooden chairs–two were empty–stood on a patterned carpet in the center. Its longer axis was in line with the door on one side and the fireplace–a convection heating unit sat in the alcove, but soot indicated that it had at one point been used for real fires–opposite. On either side twelve chairs of molded plastic, most of them occupied, were in double lines facing the table.
“My fellows!” said Osorio flourishing his hand like a conjurer. “I present to you Lady Hrynko, owner of the warship which I promised to bring you. Lady Hrynko has agreed to help the cause of Sunbright liberty when we have answered her questions.”
Adele walked to the empty chair directly in front of the fireplace, ignoring the one on a long side. She didn’t expect anyone to shoot her in the back, and with Tovera standing behind her anyone who tried would have had his work cut out for him. Still, she didn’t care to have people at her back when she was forced to interact with the world directly. So long as she had her console display to escape into, she didn’t care who might be behind her on the Sissie‘s bridge.
“So, Lady Hrynko…,” said the man facing Adele across the length of the table. “How can we help you understand how important it is that you take a moral stand on the question of liberty or servitude?”
Osorio was svelte compared to his fellows on the long sides of the table, and this fifth man was grotesquely obese. The chair in which he sat was twice the size of the others, but he filled it like a cork in a bottle.
Adele changed her mind and placed the personal data unit on the table before her. The wood was lustrously dark, and its grain was a spiral of fine black lines.
Daniel would love this. Oh, if I could have his day cabin paneled with it as a surprise!
If she ever saw Daniel again.
“The morals of a Principal of Kostroma are none of your concern, my good man,” she replied. The feed from Cory identified the fat man as Master Mangravite; he had arrived by the faux carriage. “The running costs of my yacht are approximately seven thousand thalers daily, however, and there will be a further charge to amortize the cost of the ship herself. Shall we say–”
Adele had been looking at her holographic display. She minimized it to meet Mangravite’s eyes across the table.
“–an even ten thousand? With the first ten days in advance, and thereafter five days’ payment every fifth day.”
“Do you chaffer like a street vendor?” Mangravite thundered. “I understood you were a person of quality, like the rest of us at this table!”
“In my eyes, my man…,” said Adele in the cold, haughty voice she had learned from her mother. “You and the others of your ilk are indistinguishable from the roaches scuttering around your kitchens. I do not chaffer with you, I direct you!”
There was a risk that her new approach would cause these assembled Friends of Sunbright to attempt physical violence, but Adele had decided, as soon as she saw the people she was dealing with, that the original plan would fail. Since she had to take a risk to succeed, she took the risk.
If the Friends did attack her, Adele was confident–she smiled mentally–that she and Tovera could kill everyone in the hall by themselves. They were going to run out of ammunition shortly thereafter, however, unless Tovera was even more paranoid than she had demonstrated in the past.
“Who do you think you are, woman?” Mangravite said. He slapped his hands down on the tabletop and put enough weight on them to make his flesh wobble, though not enough to really lever him out of his chair.
“I am Principal Hrynko,” Adele said, raising her voice more than she cared to do. The uproar made it necessary, and even so only those seated nearest to her would be able to hear. “I own an armed yacht which my officers assure me is capable of removing the costly thorn from your flesh. As you have no other choice of dealing with the Estremadura, I am telling you my terms.”
A real Kostroman Principal might have been just as arrogant, but she would not have displayed the same perfect control; that also Adele had from her mother. Esme Rolfe Mundy had been committed to the principles of the Popular Party, which her husband led. She had cared deeply about the plight of the common people and told those around so at every opportunity.
That said, mother had been acutely aware that common people were common and she, a Rolfe by blood and a Mundy by marriage–two of the most noble houses on Cinnabar–was nothing of the sort. It would have been no kindness to allow simple folk to get above themselves.
Her daughter had a different and much clearer view of the lower orders, having been a member of them for the fifteen years following her parents’ execution. When necessary, however, she could still ape her mother; and it was necessary now.
Adele had visualized Cremona as being as sophisticated socially as it was technologically: a crude copy of Cinnabar or Pleasaunce. In fact the planet was organized like a small town run by shopkeepers.
The five men at the table were wealthy by Cremonan standards, but Osorio had admitted that the bulk of the blockade running was done by off-planet factors because most of the locals couldn’t afford the outlay. Privateering–or crude piracy–was as much as they were capable of.
The lesser gentry filled the chairs set to either side. A few of them appeared to have risen well into the middle class. The rest were farmers or mechanics; in a good line of business, perhaps, but obviously more comfortable wearing work clothes than in the frilled dress clothing they had squeezed into for this meeting.
An advantage to dealing with people face to face, Adele thought in conscious self-mockery. Given an hour and their names–which she could have gathered herself within another hour’s searching–she would have known just as much about the Friends. It had only taken her a few seconds to scan the room, but she would rather have spent a few hours on the bridge of the Princess Cecile.
“Lady Hrynko?” said Master Osorio.
By a conscious effort of will, Adele turned her face toward Osorio instead of twitching the image into view on her display. Of the fifteen people in her direct vision at the moment, he was the only one who seemed at his ease.
“You have stated your terms, your Ladyship,” he said. “As businessmen ourselves we can appreciate both your restraint and the limited ranges of options open to us–and you noted. How quickly are you prepared to undertake the mission should we Friends agree to your terms?”
In describing the situation while they were still on Madison, Osorio had said that five of the major nobles were the real power of the Friends and that the score of other members were merely makeweights. Now that Adele had seen the Friends in conclave, she would have amended that to say that Master Mangravite, a landowner who also owned a significant trading house, was himself the Friends of Sunbright, and that four of his noble colleagues had significant shares in the risks and profits–but not in the direction.
Osorio obviously had ideas about changing the last point. He was–in a very conscious way, it appeared–using Lady Hrynko’s presence and power to erode Mangravite’s autocratic rule. The pudgy little man was a good deal more clever than Adele had believed.
I wonder if he has consciously been irritating me in the expectation of how I would react when I met Mangravite? He can’t possibly be that clever, can he?
“I won’t go into the tactics which my officers have outlined to me,” Adele said, “but we will need two additional vessels of no great force in order to eliminate the Estremadura. Under the circumstances, the rental costs will be tantamount to purchase. Because of the risk, that is.”
What Adele had taken for a window on the wall beyond Osorio was actually a bull’s-eye mirror that provided a panorama of the entire room. There was a similar mirror in the opposite wall. They accomplished through simple optical methods what her personal data unit did by very sophisticated imaging software.
I shouldn’t hold the Cremonans in contempt for their lack of sophistication. At any rate, I shouldn’t hold Master Osorio in contempt.
“The additional ships will need crews, of course,” she said. “I’ll provide commanders and perhaps some key personnel, but the common spacers will be hired locally.”
Mangravite had subsided briefly in the face of Adele’s frozen haughtiness. The business discussion had allowed him to recover, however. He said, “What do you consider the proper conversion rate between Alliance thalers and our credits, your Ladyship? Since of course we will be paying in Cremonan currency.”
“The exchange rate doesn’t enter into the matter,” said Adele. Cazelet had briefed her on this point before she left the corvette. “I can’t pay my crew in credits–which are scarcely useful to buy rotgut in your dockside taverns! And even if I were willing, I have to buy–procure, at any rate–ships and crews. Unless you gentlemen–”
She surveyed the room with the air of a hawk scanning a meadow for prey.
“–and both you ladies care to provide the ships and crews out of your private resources, I’m sure that the owners will require hard currency. As will the spacers, since the blockade runners they would otherwise sign with pay in thalers. Or florins, of course.”
The room broke into general discussion, occasionally heated. The men to Mangravite’s right and left both leaned toward him and began to speak with worried earnestness. Mangravite snarled at the beginning but then subsided. He clenched his huge fists and hunched like a lion being pelted by hail.
Osorio smiled toward Adele in a commiserating fashion. After waiting with his hands before him for long enough to let the first edge of the arguments to pass, he rose to his feet and raised his right arm.
“My fellow patriots!” he said, turning to sweep the room with his attention. “A moment, if you please!”
When the level of noise reduced abruptly, Osorio said, “My friends, we are being discourteous to our guest. Please, for the honor of Cremona and of our assembly, let me discuss what I see as a possible solution. Do I have your approval?”
Adele happened to glance at Mangravite at the other end of the table. If looks could kill…, she thought.
The fat man’s face had swelled in purple fury. All the renewed babble was agreement with Osorio in some fashion or other. It won’t matter how rich you are if you burst a blood vessel in your brain.
Osorio bowed to one side of the room, then the other. Still standing, he said to Adele, “Lady Hrynko, we Friends cannot quickly raise such sums in hard currency, but we can provide you with notes to be redeemed in hard currency which you can negotiate.”
“That isn’t acceptable,” Adele said. “I would have to discount them by ninety percent to get anyone to take them.”
She would never be a financier, but years of learning to manage her increasing wealth–and the training which Daniel’s elder sister Deirdre had provided in handling that wealth–had taught her a great deal. Deirdre Leary approached finance in the same spirit and with the same genius as her brother showed for astrogation.
“Not by so much, I hope,” Osorio said, nodding, “but with a significant discount of course. We would adjust the notes to reflect a portion of that discount. And–”
Adele raised an eyebrow as she waited. She wondered how much of this performance was for Osorio’s fellows rather than really aimed at her.
“–after your victory over the Estremadura, the value of our notes will increase to near par, providing your Ladyship with a very handy profit, is it not so?”
There was a gasp of delight among the Friends who understood the proposal, and a wash of whispering among those who did not. Finance at this level was unfamiliar territory for many of those present.
Adele considered the matter. Osorio was putting a very positive face on the proposition, but it wasn’t completely unreasonable. Adele needed a plausible reason to do what she intended to do anyway: to punish the Estremadura. This offer provided that color, though she would ask Cazelet to knock down the details.
There was one further point to pursue, not so much for its own sake as because it would further Adele’s plans to learn as much as possible about the affairs of the Sunbright rebels and thus their leader, Freedom. She let her eyes rest on the fixtures which flanked the door, cascades of dangling crystals that diffused the light efficiently while sparkling like the sun on wave tops off the coast of the Leary estate.
“Insofar as the hire of The House of Hrynko is concerned,” Adele said, “I accept Master Osorio’s offer as a matter for detailed discussion with my business manager. That does not cover the hire or more likely purchase of two subordinate vessels and payment for their crews, however. That will require hard currency, as you put it, and I will not defray those expenses myself.”
Again there was a babble. Osorio, still standing, settled his face warily. He had been grinning broadly about the room, though he was careful not to let his gaze settle on Mangravite. From the fat man’s expression, it was not beyond imagination that he could be goaded into lurching from his chair and crushing his rival like an avalanche.
“I can suggest an alternative to you Friends finding the thalers yourself,” Adele continued, raising her voice. Silence spread in waves. Those who had understood what she had said whispered to those nearby until everyone in the room had been informed.
Adele looked left, then right, before focusing on Osorio. The Friends could provide hard currency in the necessary quantities: the five major members each controlled shares in blockade runners to the equivalent of two full ships apiece. It would require many days and the publication of their private financial records–which Adele could do, but which would make an enemy of each member affected–in order to get that money, however.
“I believe your group has influence with the government of Cremona?” she said blandly. Mangravite sneered, and both men to Adele’s right at the table chuckled at the idea. They knew, as she did, that the government of Cremona was whatever a wealthy and powerful individual wanted it to be.
“Very good,” Adele said. “If the government is willing to give me authorization, I will raise the necessary sum in the form of loans from the foreign factors here in Halta City. Can you procure me that authorization?”
This time the chatter was delighted. Mangravite sat silently, his fists clenched like hams on the table before him.
“I believe that should be possible, since the proposal doesn’t affect any member of this group,” Osorio said, cutting through the enthusiasm.
He turned and for the first time looked directly at his rival. “That is true, is it not, Master Mangravite? Do you agree that we Friends of Sunbright should use our influence to permit Lady Hrynko to solicit loans for this purpose?”
“The factors will never agree!” Mangravite said. His words were almost lost in their growling overtones.
“I believe you’re wrong, my good man,” Adele said, the syllables sounding like whip-cracks. “But in any case, I do not require anything of you save the legal authorization to try. Do I have that agreement?”
No one spoke for a moment.
Adele put down her control wands, though she kept her hands on the tabletop for now. “Do you grant me that authority, Master Mangravite?” she repeated.
“Yes, damn you!” the fat man said. “And much good may it do you!”
Shouts of delight filled the room. Several Friends clustered about the beaming Osorio.
It will, Master Mangravite, Adele thought as she leaned back into her chair for the first time since she sat down. It will serve my purposes very well.
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