SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 44:

“Well, you’re off the hook now, at least,” Luff said. He was tight-faced and glared straight ahead, though Daniel doubted that he was looking at anything beyond the sheet of one-way glass between them and the cab. “Are you going to go straight back to Cinnabar?”

Daniel pursed his lips, wondering how to respond. Before he decided, Luff added, “I wish I could go back with you. I wish I’d never taken this bloody job, but I had no choice!”

A gang of children, the oldest of them no more than twelve, stood in a side street. They shouted something unintelligible when they saw the car and several threw stones; the driver accelerated. Hogg rose to his feet so that he could shoot over the driver’s head if he had to, but in the event he kept the squat pistol down by his side.

“I’m not sure what you mean by me being off the hook, Luff,” Daniel said quietly. “My assignment is to help oust the invaders from Dunbar’s World. It would’ve been simpler to do that if the Bennarian government were more forthcoming, but that wasn’t part of the orders I was given at Navy House.”

Luff stared at him in a mixture of anger and resentment. “Look,” the agent said, “your orders have changed. You’re here to help Bennaria, and the best thing that could happen to Bennaria now would be for Yuli Corius to be killed on Dunbar’s World. If you don’t believe me, just ask any of the Councilors.”

“With all due respect, Master Luff…,” Daniel said, giving the adjective a slight emphasis to make the insult unmistakable. “I cannot imagine circumstances in which an RCN officer would ask tin-pot foreign politicians to interpret orders given him by his superiors.”

“You know what I mean!” Luff said angrily. His clenched fists quivered on his knees in an access of frustration. “You’re not here because of the Cinnabar navy or the Cinnabar Senate or the Cinnabar bloody anything! You’re here because the Mancos had you sent here to make their trading partners on Bennaria happy. That’s the Councilors, and I’m telling you–the Councilors don’t want Corius to succeed!”

Daniel looked out the front window as he considered what Luff had said. They were nearing the harbor; the only people he saw out were those nailing sheets of plywood or structural plastic over the windows of the larger houses of entertainment.

“Well, Luff…,” he said, keeping his eyes on the buildings rather than facing the man with him. He and Hogg’d come from the Princess Cecile in an ordinary water taxi, but those might no longer be running. Of course the crewmen of the Manco barge were locals also, as apt to be part of Corius’ assembly as the independent watermen were.

Daniel’d let his voice trail off. He grimaced and said, “Sorry. Yes, you may well be right about the motivation behind my orders, but–”

He turned and smiled directly at the Manco agent.

“–you see, the orders themselves don’t say that.”

The car slowed and turned left down Harbor Street. Hogg stood again, this time to see past the embankment to where boats might be riding on the ebb tide. The Princess Cecile was a low shape among the bulkier freighters in the mist across the strait.

“You don’t have to be that literal!” Luff said. “You’ve got leeway, I know that. I’ve seen your record, Leary, so don’t pretend you’re some kind of by-the-book robot.”

“No, I’m not,” Daniel said. “I’ve used my judgment to interpret orders in the past, and I’m doing the same now.”

He paused, considering how much more he really ought to say. Nothing more was probably the right answer, but he was Daniel Leary.

“You’re wondering if this is happening because I dislike Councilor Waddell,” Daniel said. “Again, no. I wouldn’t compromise my duty, let alone risk the lives of the crewmen for whom I’m responsible, simply because I feel Councilor Waddell’s best use would be as fish bait.”

As he spoke, he thought of Waddell bouncing along on a cable behind the Bantry Belle, with Hogg at the controls and himself manning the harpoon gun. The trench eels off the east coast grew to over a hundred feet long.

The image made him grin broadly; Luff started back.

“As I say, my personal feelings don’t matter here,” Daniel continued, a lie but a small one. “The Pellegrinians have been developing increasingly close ties with the Alliance, however. I don’t see any benefit to the Republic in letting an Alliance supporter expand its power into Ganpat’s Reach, and I’m confident that my superiors will feel the same way.”

The car stopped abruptly. Daniel leaned back, compensating with a spacer’s reflex, but Luff rocked forward hard enough to thump the divider with his shoulder. Hogg jumped out and called to someone unseen beyond the seawall.

“They’ll blame me, you know,” Luff muttered, again to his clenched hands. “Not that you care.”

“He’ll take us, young master!” Hogg said, gesturing toward the presumed boat and boatman. The closed compartment muffled his voice. “And I won’t mind having the Sissies and a couple plasma cannon around me, I’ll tell you now.”

Daniel got out of the car. Before he closed the door, though, he leaned back and said, “Master Luff? I’ve told you what I intend to do as an RCN officer, but I should add that if I were a civilian I’d do the same. I prefer to think that any Cinnabar gentleman would put his heritage ahead of the wishes of unpleasant foreigners.”

As he swung the door to, he added, “It’s something you might keep in mind yourself.”