SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 47:

Adele wouldn’t have said that she liked liftoffs, but so long as she was at her console aboard the Princess Cecile she liked them as much as she liked any other part of life. She was running a panorama of the harbor as a narrow band on her display, but her attention was on the communications traffic as usual.

She grinned slightly as her wands danced, sorting messages. The last of Councilor Corius’ troops were boarding his four freighters. One of those, the Todarov, was sealed for liftoff. The IMG40 and Zephyr were fully loaded also, as best Adele could tell, but peevish intercom transmissions indicted their crews were still trying to settle their military passengers into the available space.

She checked on Daniel by echoing his display on hers, the way most natural to her. The upper half was a real-time view with the four freighters broken out as icons in a sidebar so that he could quickly expand them if he thought he needed to; the lower half was a schematic of the Sissie’s plasma and High Drive systems, all comfortably in the green. None of that was critical, so–

“Daniel?” Adele said over their two-way link. Should she’ve said ‘Commander’? But no, this was her personal curiosity. “Why is Corius taking four ships to Dunbar’s World when he was able to get all the troops in one when he brought them from his estate here to Charlestown? Are the ships themselves important? Over.”

“No, the ships are still just transports,” Daniel said. His face smiled cheerfully, but there was a tight readiness in the muscles that they always got when he was preparing for action. “And it’s not a long run to Dunbar’s World, that’s true–a day or two, even for freighters. But that’s still far too long to keep two thousand soldiers aboard one or even two ships the size of those. When they lifted from Corius’ estate, there must’ve been men packing every corridor and compartment.”

His tiny image grinned at her from the top of her display. “You couldn’t feed them like that,” Daniel added, “Which is a good thing because they certainly wouldn’t be able to cycle them through the heads. And then there’s their equipment too. They aren’t tourists, they’re carrying all their weapons and munitions, remember. Over?”

“Ah,” said Adele. “Yes, thank you.”

She focused for a moment on her display. She’d started to say “Out”–she was getting much better about RCN communications protocol–but before the word reached her lips it became, “Daniel, Commander, the Todarov is starting liftoff.”

Blast, I’ve done again! Switching to the command channel she repeated, “Captain Vesey, the transport Todarov is preparing to lift off. The IMG40 and Zephyr should be ready in a few minutes. The Greybudd hasn’t sealed its hatches yet, but Corius is aboard that one himself and both the crew and his soldiers seem to be better organized than the remainder of the force. Out.”

“Thank you, Mundy,” Vesey said. “Break, Commander, all our systems are go. I propose to wait for the last of them to actually get floats up before I light our thrusters. Is that acceptable to you, over?”

“I’d do the same if I were captain, Vesey,” Daniel said carefully. “Though of course I’m not.”

To take the sting out of what Adele knew was a rebuke, he added, “Six out.”

It was clearly an uncomfortable situation for Vesey, because Daniel was not only the former captain but also the ship’s owner. Using Ship Six, his call sign from when he’d been captain, was a way of acknowledging her problem while the form of the statement itself made it clear that she was had command of the corvette and that he expected her to exercise it.

Adele smiled broadly enough that a stranger seeing her would’ve recognized the expression. The duties of both her present positions–signals officer and spy–required her to be skilled at breaking codes. Not all the codes she’d learned to deal with were formal ones, however.

The Todarov’s image wrapped itself in fireshot steam, plasma mixing with the water vapor. The thump-p-p of the thrusters lighting in quick sequence was followed by a buzz as they settled into a low-output flow. Static from atoms changing phase washed across the RF spectrum.

Councilor Waddell had left a twenty-man section in Charlestown to observe events in general and particularly to see what Corius would do. Adele knew as much about the Councilors’ secret deliberations as anyone on the planet; more than any single Councilor, even Waddell, because she had tapped the internal conversations of the various cliques as well as what they told each other.

Waddell and his fellows were nervous. They were willing to sacrifice the city to riots that’d leave the mob starving and homeless, but they feared Corius would try to conquer the whole planet with his two thousand troops. They were sure he’d fail, but he might try anyway–

And barely whispered among themselves was the thought that just possibly Corius could conquer Bennaria after all. They couldn’t imagine how he’d do it, but if.

Waddell’s observers were split into four posts and a command unit on the roof of Waddell House. The squads kept up a running dialogue, and the command unit sent a constant flow of information back to Waddell on his estate. Either the observers were too low-ranking to’ve been told that Corius might be planning a coup, or they were remarkably phlegmatic individuals. Their tone and words suggested nothing more than bored professionalism.

The curtain of steam shrouding the Todarov billowed into an anvil-topped cloud. Shockwaves transmitted by the water made the Princess Cecile shudder an instant before the roar reached them through the air. The transport lifted high enough for the savage rainbow beauty of her exhaust showing through the steam. The IMG40 and Zephyr lit their thrusters also, unnoticed in the thunder of their colleague’s liftoff.

It was natural that the other Councilors wouldn’t know what Corius had in mind. What bothered Adele–and what she absolutely refused to consider proper–was that she didn’t know what Corius would do.