SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 46:

The southern half of the building had racks, but crates and a jumble of loose gear were piled in the aisles. Daniel saw the noses of several missiles facing out from the other half of the building, but there were boxes in front of them and more on top. From what he could tell at a quick glance, much of what was stored here was junk.

The guide started off again; Hogg thrust the barrel of his impeller out like traffic barrier. “Come look over the boat with me, buddy,” he said. “It won’t take a minute if everything’s the way it should be, and I guess you can straighten things out for us if it’s not.”

“It’s all right,” the Bennarian said sullenly. He turned without objection, though. “Anyway, what do I know about boats?”

As they walked toward the water, Hogg said, “You know, that’s like me and missiles. I don’t know squat. But with this little darling–”

He slapped his palm against the fore-end of his impeller.

“Why, one of these I can just about make sit up and beg,” Hogg said, his voice brightly cheerful. “Even at night, like now.”

They started down the short ladder to the barge moored to the end of the dock, the Bennarian leading. Ten missiles would be an overload for it.

Woetjans climbed onto the pile covering the missiles, then turned to look down at Daniel. “Sir?” she called, her hand on a swivel-chair with a broken seat. “We need to clear the eye-bolts so we can hook the crane to’em. D’ye care what happens to the stuff on top?”

“No,” said Daniel without hesitation. Quite obviously the Bennarians didn’t care about it either or the warehouse wouldn’t have been treated like a rubbish dump. “Just don’t throw it where we’ll have to move it again.”

Woetjans snorted. “Right,” she said as she hurled the chair deeper into the warehouse. “That’s the sorta thing a mere bosun like me wouldn’t ‘ve figured out, sir.”

“Sorry, Woetjans,” Daniel said contritely, making his own way up the heap of heaven-knew-what-all. The overburden covering the missiles was five feet deep and occasionally more. “I was thinking out loud. And not thinking as clearly as I should have.”

He grabbed a crate that’d originally been for signal rockets, judging from the stenciled legend; it now held light fixtures and their cords in knotted confusion. Daniel shoved it away like a shot put instead of using an over-arm motion the way he’d started to. All he’d need was to throw his arm out by being hasty….

The lights in the cab of the crane came on. The mechanism squealed, then began a rhythmic thumping. “Now if I can just–” Morgan called down. There was a loud clank and the crane began to crawl forward along its track down the middle of the vault.

“Sir?” said Kaltenbrenner. He held the rim of a transmission casing in both hands. Though light metal and empty, it was a full meter in diameter. “Give me a hand with this and I think we’ll be able to hook the crane to the forward attachment point. We can shake her free if we do.”

“Right,” said Daniel, moving toward the tech. What he thought was something solid under his right boot started to tilt up as soon as he started to put his weight on it. He stepped over it, balanced a moment to make sure he had firm footing, and heaved himself up opposite Kaltenbrenner.

“I think we’ll be all right if we just roll it toward the shelves behind me,” he added, looking over his shoulder. With the power of the crane to lift, the casing wouldn’t be a problem even if it were pressing against the flank of the missile. “On three.”

Daniel braced himself. “One, two, three!” He lifted and at the same time pivoted at the waist.

The casing resisted, then came away with unexpected ease: it’d seemed much heavier than it really was because it’d been caught under other trash. Daniel followed it down with a crash, barking his knuckles but not doing himself serious damage. There wasn’t any real distance to fall.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Kaltenbrenner said. “Bloody fucking hell. Sir, we’re screwed. On this one at least.”

Daniel climbed back up the trash hillock, using his hands to help himself this time. He looked down into the opening they’d created by digging out the casing.

The hole was deeper than that. An access panel in the missile’s hull had been removed. The missile’s antimatter converter had been taken out through the opening.

“Hell, the bastards cannibalized this one, sir!” Morgan shouted from the cab. His vantage point didn’t show him any more than Daniel could see from thirty feet below him, of course. “D’ye suppose they gutted the rest of this lot too?”

“Drop the hook!” Daniel called. “Jerk this one out of the way, just shift it against the back wall, and we’ll be able to check the next one pretty easily. Maybe we’ll be lucky.”

It took an hour and a half to examine the ten missiles. All were missing the converter and High Drive motor: they were steel tubes, no more weapons than so many empty well casings.

Hogg entered the warehouse while the last missile hung tilted on the hook. Daniel and the spacers with him stared at it glumly.

“Young master, we’re screwed,” Hogg said. “The lighter they got moored here, the motor shorted out when I switched on the power. There’s two barges up by the admin building, a little bigger even, but neither of them’s got a bloody motor in it! We can’t carry a missile in the boat we came in, no way.”

“Well, that’s not a problem, Hogg,” Daniel said. He laughed at the absurd humor of it. “All the taxi has to do is get the five of us back to the Sissie. We’ll be going to Dunbar’s World without missiles.”

“What about that Pellegrino cruiser, sir?” Woetjans asked.

“We’ll try not to get in a fight with it,” Daniel said, stretching some of the kinks out of his back. He’d managed to tear his left sleeve badly, he now noticed. “And if we have to engage, well, who knows? Maybe Pellegrinian supply and maintenance is no better than what we’ve found tonight on Bennaria.”

He laughed so cheerfully that the other spacers joined him, though they seemed a little doubtful.