SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 30:

CHAPTER 8: Charlestown Harbor on Bennaria

The water taxi that brought Daniel and Hogg from Waddell House to the Sissie was a flat-bottomed skimmer driven by an air-screw astern. It was only marginally stable, extremely wet, and more than a little dangerous because the powerplant was a nacelle cannibalized from an air-cushion vehicle.

The high-speed intake stream would’ve sucked off Daniel’s saucer hat if he hadn’t kept it on his lap. He could imagine a drunk who’d stood too close when the nacelle pivoted for a turn having worse problems than that.

Half a dozen other watercraft, bumboats rather than taxis, were tied up to the starboard outrigger. As a safety precaution, locals weren’t allowed aboard the corvette in harbor and the lower decks remained sealed in accordance with Daniel’s orders. He’d given half the crew liberty, though, and the other half–save a minimal anchor watch–was free to trade with local entrepreneurs so long as they didn’t leave the ship.

The floating crib, an open-topped canvas shelter on a boat small enough to be rowed with a single set of oars, was stretching the point a trifle, but only one man left the Sissie at a time and that only by the length of the bow rope. Vesey’d been right to interpret the orders loosely. Spacers waiting in line greeted Daniel cheerfully as the taxi glided to a halt, and Plastin, a tech on guard duty in the entrance hatch, bent to give him a hand up.

Hogg had paused to pay the driver with a handful of local scrip–and when had he found time to gather that? He scrambled onto the ramp a moment later, glaring at Daniel’s spray-sodden Whites. “Bugger-all use they’ll be till I get’em cleaned!” he grumbled.

“It may be some while before I need them again, Hogg,” Daniel said. “The quality people of Bennaria don’t seem to have warmed to my charms.”

“The Lieutenant’s on the bridge, sir,” said Plastin as he retrieved the sub-machine gun that Fairfax, his partner on guard, had been holding while Plastin helped Daniel aboard.

“And Mistress Mundy’s in the BDC, sir,” Fairfax added. “By herself.”

“I thought Tovera was with her,” Plastin said, frowning.

Fairfax gave his partner a broad grin. “Like I said,” he replied.

“I’m glad she’s aboard,” said Daniel, striding toward the companionway. It was a pleasure to hear the familiar echoes of his boot soles on the steel deckplates. “Thank you both.”

“I’ve seen better quality people working the Harbor Three Strip,” said Hogg in a low voice. “I’ve seen better quality people lying in the gutter on the Harbor Three Strip!”

Daniel didn’t respond except perhaps to smile a little broader; but then, he was generally smiling. He more or less agreed with Hogg. Any Cinnabar citizen would.

A brief frown touched his forehead. Well, almost any; Master Luff was a disturbing exception.

Vesey was coming out of the bridge to meet Daniel as he stepped from the companionway into the A Level corridor. “Good evening, sir,” she said. “Mistress Mundy was hoping you’d drop in on her in the Battle Direction Center when you came aboard.”

“That’s where I’m headed, Vesey,” Daniel said. “You’ve had no excitement, I trust?”

Vesey’d been alone on the bridge, running a simulation at the command console. Daniel couldn’t make out the details at this distance, but his mind made an intuitive leap at the sight of a few blue specks maneuvering among the large number of orange ones.

“There haven’t been any angry calls from the groundside authorities,” said Vesey with a perfunctory smile. “Ah–I gave the starboard watch liberty, as we’d discussed, but I let both Blantyre and Cory go tonight. I hope that’s all right?”

“I’d have done the same,” Daniel said as he turned toward the BDC at the other end of the corridor. Over his shoulder he added, “And regardless, Captain, it’s your decision.”

Tovera cycled open the heavy hatch as Daniel approached; the BDC was armored, like the bridge and Power Room. She gave him a smile that made him think–as usual when he was around Tovera–of snakes, then said, “Come have a drink with me, Hogg. They won’t need us for a little while.”

Daniel glanced at his servant. “Yes, of course,” he said. He didn’t know what Tovera wanted to discuss with Hogg, and he did know that asking wouldn’t gain him anything. “For that matter–I intend to go out later myself, but there’s no reason you need to accompany me.”

Hogg sniffed. “No reason the sun needs to rise in the morning either, young master,” he said. “But I guess it will.”

To Tovera he added as the hatch closed, “I’ve got a pint of what they call whiskey on Blennerhasset. Leastwise we can make room for something better, eh?”

The consoles of the BDC were arranged petal-fashion around the center of the compartment, with five jumpseats along each sidewall. Adele, alone in the room, didn’t turn when Daniel entered behind her.

“I’ve been busy,” she said as her wands flickered; she’d slaved the console to her little data unit as she generally did. She was so familiar with its controls that she gained minusculely by the circumlocution. “I assume you want to know about Admiral Wrenn?”

“Yes-s-s…,” said Daniel carefully, patting his head by reflex to be sure that he wasn’t after all wearing a commo helmet that would’ve transmitted the business aboard the destroyer back to Adele here in the Princess Cecile. He wasn’t–of course.

He settled onto the console to the left of Adele’s. Text spilled across the display, broken up with images of Wrenn at various stages of his life. Mostly he was dressed in one or another comic-opera Bennarian uniform, but in one he appeared in the unpiped gray of a probationary RCN midshipman.

Understanding dawned, filling Daniel with relief. “I turned the Sibyl’s console on!” he said. “You used that to see what was going on aboard her. And then you gathered the rest of this because you knew I’d want to know what had gotten into Wrenn.”

“You would, and I did also,” said Adele, cocking her head just slightly sideways and offering Daniel a smile. Well, a smile for Adele; a slight tick of the lips for anybody else. “And I suspect the answer is that Wrenn was sent to the RCN Academy at Xenos as a foreign student but was dismissed after the first year. He doesn’t seem to have showed up for classes. The Wrenns are a Counciliar House, of course.”

She frowned. “I’m a little surprised that he wasn’t simply waved on through,” she said. “Since he wouldn’t be entering the RCN, after all.”

Daniel shrugged. “If he’d been from somewhere more important,” he said, “Kostroma or the Danziger Stars, say, I suspect that’s what would’ve happened. Bennaria doesn’t matter enough for External Affairs or Navy House either one to worry about offending the local nobility.”