SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 45:

CHAPTER 12: Bennaria

The spacer from the Armed Squadron unlocked the riverside wicket in the fence surrounding the Pool; he gave it a tentative push. The vines growing through the wire meshes held it closed. “It’s stuck,” he said to Daniel in apparent surprise.

Woetjans stepped past Daniel and gripped the frame with both hands. Planting her left boot on the gatepost, she pulled hard. The gate opened; the thicker woody stems popped like burning brushwood.

“Bloody hell,” the Bennarian said when he got a good look at the bosun. Unlike the Sissies he didn’t have light-enhancing goggles and Bennaria’s moon, though full, was too small to be more than a gleam in the haze. “You’re a big one, ain’t you!”

“Yes, she is,” said Daniel. “Now–seeing how short we are on time, let’s get to the missile warehouse at once, shall we?”

“You’re not the only one on duty tonight, are you?” Woetjans said harshly. “Where’s the rest of you?

The bosun had spent much of her working life on the hull of starships in the Matrix, an environment utterly hostile to any kind of life. Clearly she wasn’t a coward, but she didn’t like darkness. Daniel knew the long ride upriver in the water taxi must’ve been slow torture for her.

Hogg was a skilled boatman, but the river wasn’t marked; they’d twice run onto mudflats that were indistinguishable from rafts of floating weed. Besides, the taxi was overloaded with five. Daniel’d brought two Power Room techs, Kaltenbrenner and Morgan, for their expertise in handling missiles. Woetjans was in a bad mood.

“Look, they’re in the admin building,” the Bennarian said. “We cut cards and I lost, so I’m the one letting you in. I’ll show you the missiles and the lighter, then I leave too. What you do then’s your business. We don’t know a thing!”

“Let’s go,” Daniel said quietly. He’d made the deal with Commandant Brast over a channel that Adele swore couldn’t be tapped by anybody on the planet except herself. The missiles were costing a fortune because every member of the detachment on duty at the Pool had to be paid off; but Daniel had money, now, and he couldn’t think of a better use for it than to arm the Princess Cecile before she lifted tomorrow for Dunbar’s World.

If it worked, of course. The trip upriver had already taken two hours longer than planned, and Daniel didn’t kid himself that returning to the harbor in a heavily-laden barge was going to be any easier. They’d still be transferring the missiles to the Sissie when dawn broke.

Well, one problem at a time. If Daniel had to use his cannon to keep the Bennarian authorities away while he finished loading the missiles, that’s what he’d do.

Their guide didn’t have a vehicle. The path from the gate was covered with pierced steel planking, slick and likely to trip the unwary where the sections fitted together.

The local man had more trouble with the surface than Daniel and his crewmen did, only in part because they had night vision goggles. They also had much more experience moving in difficult conditions. As rarely as any Bennarian warship lifted, the Squadron’s spacers must spend most of their time playing cards in the administration building.

Hogg didn’t wear goggles: he’d been a poacher too long to allow machines to come between his senses and the night around him. He walked beside the track in soft, shapeless boots that wouldn’t leave identifiable tracks. In his arms was cradled a stocked impeller. Just in case, he’d said, and Daniel hadn’t been disposed to argue the point.

The Bennarian skidded; he’d have fallen over backwards if Daniel hadn’t caught him by the shoulder and held him upright. He fumbled a light out of his belt pouch, muttering, “I never have no luck!” he muttered angrily. “Bloody never!”

He switched on a small light, but its razor-thin beam did more to conceal than illuminate the path. He resumed slipping and sloshing toward the row of barrel-vaulted warehouses backed against the Pool itself. Kaltenbrenner said something to Morgan; both men chuckled.

There were five warehouses, though Daniel wouldn’t have been able to tell that in the darkness. The front lights of the U-shaped Administration Building were on, throwing a faint glow skyward, but the floods on the sides and rear had been switched off.

The warehouse aprons were concrete, a pleasant change after the PSP. The path to the water was for maintaining the downstream locks, but it must not get much use. Well, no part of the Armed Squadron seemed to get much use under the present Council.

The guide took them around to the back where loading docks jutted into the water. He stopped at the second warehouse and fumbled with a switch. The full-width door began to rumble upward; it didn’t appear to have been locked.

“There!” the Bennarian said. “The missiles’re against the north wall and the boat’s tied to the dock. Now you’re on your own, all right?”

He started off in the direction of the Admin Building. Daniel caught his arm again. “Where are the lights, please?” he said.

“Look, they’ll show up for miles with the door open,” the Bennarian said peevishly. “Can’t you use your handlights, all right?”

“I’m afraid we can’t, no,” Daniel said. “The sooner we finish this job, the sooner–”

As he spoke, a red bead appeared in the field of his night vision goggles and pulsed to the right. Adele was obviously listening to what was going on and–as now–always offered help when she thought it was useful.

Daniel turned to center the bead, then put out his hand to a switchbox with a row of toggles. He threw them in pairs; fluorescent lights with a distinctly greenish cast flickered on in the ceiling.

“Do as you please, then,” the spacer muttered. “Since you’re going to anyway.”

Woetjans and the two technicians strode into the warehouse and stopped. The bosun muttered, “Well, what’d I bloody expect?”

“There’s an overhead crane,” said Morgan. He started for the back, where a ladder led to the tracked crane above. “I’ll get it going. If it will go, I mean.”