IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 31:
Adele took a chip from her case and inserted it into a slot beside the one holding the route pack. On her way to the transport she’d been discussing the problem with Cory over an intercom channel, using the Milton herself as a base unit. She had a pretty good idea which key would provide the solution; but if not, she had several hundred alternatives already prepared.
“You needn’t worry, Colonel,” she said as the console worked. It was slower than a first-line RCN unit, but no computer which could handle astrogation could be called slow. “I assure you that I have no more inclination toward sin, as you put it, than this console does.”
She patted the fascia plate with her right hand.
“So you may as well disregard my gender, just as I do.”
Having finished linking the console to her personal data unit, Adele leaned back and watched its display form. She preferred to use her wands for control; but more important in this instance, she could set the hologram so that it was focused only for her own eyes. She didn’t want the others, particularly Stockheim, to know that she was sweeping up all the information in the Spezza’s system, but neither did she want to seem obviously secretive.
Stockheim snorted, but he didn’t speak.
“You travel with twenty-three women, Colonel, Tovera said. Her voice sounded like scales rustling on a slate floor. “They’re in the warehouse with your troops right now. According to the manifest, you left a twenty-fourth woman behind on Brightsky when she broke her leg in a fall.”
“You hellspawn!” Stockheim said, and everything moved very quickly. Stockheim stepped forward, his right hand rising. He slammed chest to chest into Daniel, who hadn’t been there a moment before, and bounced back.
Cory grabbed Stockheim’s right arm; Stockheim twitched like a dog shaking and flung the midshipman against a bulkhead. Kelly pricked the back of the colonel’s neck with his dagger and shouted, “Enough! This is my bloody bridge! All of you, enough!”
Stockheim turned without jerking his head away. The dagger-point nicked his ruddy-brown skin before Kelly drew it back.
“Your pardon, Captain,” the soldier said in a rusty voice. “You are of course right; this is your bridge.”
“And the lady’s right about the manifest,” said Kelly, thrusting the dagger back into his sash with a quick enthusiasm that should’ve ripped the fabric if it didn’t split the pelvis besides. “Which is no secret to anybody who wants to look it up at port control. So I don’t see why you’d be flying hot anyhow, eh?”
Adele slipped the pistol back into her pocket, then picked up the wand she’d dropped onto the floor. She returned to the encrypted data, breathing through her open mouth. With luck no one was paying attention to her.
Well, no one who didn’t know her already. She always forgot how quick Daniel was until she saw him move again in a crisis.
Tovera provoked this because she was angry, Adele thought. But she shouldn’t be able to feel anger any more than she could feel love. Could a sociopath really learn to be human?
“The women, as you put it,” said Stockheim, facing the empty corridor, “are a detachment of Intercessors. Their purpose, their vocation, is to bring the individual Brethren in touch with Godhead as required by our humanity.”
His eyes swept the others on the bridge; Adele was watching through a pickup in the other console so that she didn’t appear to be involved in the discussion. Stockheim was both angry and defensive, but he’d brought his emotions back under tight rein.
“The Brothers of Amorgos aren’t saints,” he said. “We’re men as the Gods made all men: sinful. If you want to mock us for being as you are, do so. We’ll continue to do our duty, regardless of laughter and insult.”
“No one’s mocking, Colonel,” Daniel said, rubbing his chest with the fingers of his left hand. The two men had collided like tree trunks in a windstorm… though it was the soldier who’d recoiled. “We’re here to help you, after all.”
Adele removed her key and replaced it carefully in the attaché case. She rose from the console, aware that all present were looking at her.
“I believe that will take care of the problem, Captain Kelly,” she said, bowing slightly. “I’ve recopied the navigational instructions in clear onto the same chip. You’ll be able to access them normally.”
“And the other folder that your Cory said was on the chip?” the Hydriote said. “What of that?”
Adele shrugged. “It’s still there,” she said. “The material didn’t appear to involve your vessel, so I left it as it was.”
“Then I think we’ve accomplished what we set out to do,” Daniel said, giving everyone a broad smile. “Officer Mundy, your vehicle appears to have ample room for me and the midshipmen as well, so I think we’ll all return to the Millie together.”
“If I may ask a favor, Captain?” Adele said. “There’s a large public garden at the eastern jaw of this harbor; I’d very much like to see it this morning. If you have time, I’d appreciate it if you could give me some pointers from your background in natural history.”
“I’d be pleased to, Mundy,” Daniel said. “We should have an interesting discussion.”
His expression hadn’t changed in any identifiable fashion, but something about it now reminded Adele of the touch of her pistol’s grip.