STARLINER David Drake
STARLINER David Drake
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Clyde and Carlie Howard, and Sandra Miesel, all dug up material I didn’t know I needed until it arrived. Mark Van Name and Allyn Vogel diagnosed and cured the computer glitch that seems inevitably to crop up when I’m almost finished with a novel (this one turned out to be a printer glitch, but you couldn’t have proved it by me). And Jim Baen told me to write this book because it was the book I wanted to write—even though I think he’d just as soon have gotten something that could have a tank on the cover.
It’s nice to have friends.
The starship shimmered yellow in the midst of three spikes of blue flux, the magnetic motors of the tugs which added their thrust to that of the larger vessel. Ribbons of aurora borealis filled the rest of the sunless sky with faint pastels.
Lieutenant Randall Colville didn’t need to squint as he stared upward, because the limousine’s sunroof grayed automatically to dim the dangerous brilliance of the tugs’ discharges. The low-frequency rumble of the starship’s passage through the stratosphere shook the car.
“Is that . . . ?” asked Lady Hilda Bernsdorf. She was in the driver’s seat, but the limousine edged forward under external control in the line waiting for access to Port Northern’s VIP parking.
Ran smiled at her, though there wasn’t a great deal behind the expression at the moment. Hilda was a good lady, appreciative and quite appreciable. And the timing couldn’t have worked out better . . . .
“The Empress?” he said. “No, probably a Planet-Class packet from Solar Traders.”
Ran combed the fingers of his left hand through his short auburn hair as he considered the descending vessel. “The Jupiter’s on a Wednesday shuttle from K’Chitka. It’s probably her. But she’s not a third the size of the Empress of Earth, milady.”
The limousine jerked forward again as the car at the head of the line cleared the final security check. The autopilot of Lady Bernsdorf’s vehicle was capable of micrometric precision, but the Port Northern control worked in much coarser increments.
Ran made a mental note. The spaceport authorities should do something about that. Those with access to Port Northern’s VIP lot understood the need for security as well as anyone on Earth, but they wouldn’t put up with needless discomfort
That wasn’t a matter of concern to a junior officer of Trident Starlines . . . but thirty standard years in the past, Ran Colville had been born on Bifrost, the son of a hide-hunting ex-mercenary. Someday in the future, there might be a Ran Colville who was administrator of the greatest spaceport in the known universe.
“They’re all ships,” Hilda said. “They all take people places they don’t want to be. . . .”
Her right hand tightened on the limousine’s collective, a wheel with a 10-cm diameter. Forward and back motion controlled speed. Rotating the wheel turned the vehicle without need for the driver to consider the car’s attitude or fan pitch. The control was disabled in the secure lane, so it didn’t matter that the knuckles of Lady Bernsdorf’s fine-boned hand were mottled with the force of their grip.
Ran laid his big left hand over Hilda’s, squeezing just enough to remind her that he was present Her features were as sharp and beautiful as those of a well-struck medallion. “Some people like to travel,” he said gently.
He thought of Bifrost. Some people know that wherever they go will be better than where they started out, even if that means working their passage in the Cold Crew, outside a starship in sponge space.
Aloud, controlling his voice to prevent it from trembling, he said, “Is that why you didn’t go with your husband to Nevasa? You don’t like star travel?”
Hilda’s hand twisted on the collective to grip his. She leaned toward him, reaching up with her free hand to draw him into a fierce kiss. Ran slipped his hand behind the woman and kneaded the flesh over her shoulderblades. The garment she wore was silk from a Waserli royal nursery chamber. The fabric was opaque despite its natural pale dun color, but it was so fine that he could feel the texture of Lady Bernsdorf’s skin through it.
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