SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 32:

The water taxi’s electric motor began to arc and spit before it’d carried Adele and Tovera more than halfway to Krychek’s ship. They wallowed.

“Can you get us to shore?” Tovera said. Adele couldn’t see her face in the darkness, but her voice was cold. “We’ll walk the rest of the way.”

“No no!” said the boatman, pulling on a rubber glove. “Is not a problem, you see!” He put his index finger on the motor’s control panel, apparently holding down a relay. The motor buzzed back up to speed and they proceeded, a nimbus of sizzling blue wrapping the boatman’s hand.

“There’s no road on the island,” Adele said mildly. That was why she’d called a water taxi for the trip to the Mazeppa. “It’s just mud except for the individual slips.”

“Yes,” said Tovera from her seat in the far bow. She was wearing RCN goggles which gave her several light enhancement options as well as magnification if she wanted. “But even so we wouldn’t sink as deep.”

The boatman cut inshore toward a freighter hulking against the tip of the island. The stars were thick enough to silhouette dorsal turrets at the vessel’s bow and stern; there were rocket clusters also, bolted on awkwardly between the folded masts.

Krychek’s Mazeppa displaced nearly 6,000 tonnes, nearly twice the size of anything else in harbor. Lights shone through open hatches on the upper levels, though the hull at the waterline was dark save for the vast square of the entrance hold.

Adele had examined the Mazeppa through its computer. The vessel didn’t carry missiles so it couldn’t engage a real warship with any chance of success, but its array of short-range armament was enough to warn off a pirate–or squadron of pirates.

“There’s two automatic impellers aimed at us,” Tovera said. She didn’t sound frightened, but she’d raised her voice more than she usually would.

“Sheer off!” a man shouted. “We don’t want visitors!”

A powerful searchlight above the entrance hatch blazed down at the taxi. The boatman yelped, jerking his hand away from the relay. The motor spluttered, leaving the boat to wallow again.

Adele had expected the light and was already squinting. In the side-scatter of the beam she saw a pintle-mounted automatic impeller aimed at them from the boarding ramp. Tovera’d opened her attaché case, but she used the lid to conceal her right hand from the vessel.

“This is Mundy of Chatsworth!” Adele said. “Visiting Captain Krychek by arrangement!”

“Bloody hell!” somebody muttered from the Mazeppa. The searchlight cut off, turning the night into a pit of total darkness.

“Come aboard, Mistress,” a different voice called. “Sorry for the confusion.”

The taxi coasted against the Mazeppa’s outrigger. The boatman was hunched with his hands clasped over his head, so Adele herself grabbed the rope ladder hanging from the metal. Tovera remained as she’d been, smiling faintly but focused on other concerns than whether the taxi would drift away from the freighter.

Adele didn’t have local currency, so she dropped two florins beside the boatman and climbed the ladder. “That’s too much, Mistress,” Tovera said mildly as she waited for Adele to reach the outrigger.”

“He may have trouble changing Cinnabar money,” Adele said, waving aside the spacer bending to offer her a hand. “Besides, he just had guns pointed at him.”

Tovera tittered. Adele didn’t ask what her servant had found funny. Perhaps it was the thought that an automatic impeller was more dangerous than she was.

A hatch squealed open; full illumination flooded the entrance hold in place of the yellow watch light that’d been on before.

“Mistress Mundy!” said the big man coming toward her with his arms out in greeting. “I am Krychek! Pardon my men’s mistake. The Bennarians do not welcome us, and we do not encourage drunken louts to speed past and hurl garbage. As has happened in the past.”

Krychek was about sixty, with close-cropped hair, a full beard, and a wrestler’s build. He wore closely tailored trousers and tunic of blue fabric with red piping. The outfit suggested a uniform but had no unit or rank markings.
“I regret to hear that,” Adele said, clasping Krychek’s right hand in both of hers to prevent him from embracing her–if that was actually what he’d intended. “I was hoping for a neutral assessment of the political situation here.”

Adele’d looked up Krychek as soon as Claverhouse mentioned his name, though at the time she hadn’t expected the information to be of importance. He was hereditary Landholder of Infanta, one of the founding worlds of the Alliance of Free Stars.

From the beginning Infantans had been more notable for military prowess than scholarship; Adele didn’t remember ever meeting one in the Academic Collections. She didn’t know what the culture considered a friendly greeting, and she had no intention of adapting her own upper-class Cinnabar reserve to anything more physical.

“A neutral assessment?” said Krychek, taking her firmly by the elbow and guiding her toward the companionway. “A difficult task, mistress. Flies, I am sure, can find all manner of subtleties in garbage, but for such folk as you and I–what can we say about a stench and an abomination? Still, come with me to my library and I will do what I can to inform you.”