SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 48:

The ships’ captains, all civilians, and the mercenary commander on each vessel had sealed orders to open after liftoff. Nobody knew what was in those orders except Corius himself. Adele’s skills and equipment were both of a very high order, but they wouldn’t take her inside the skull of a man wise enough to keep his own counsel.

The Todarov must by now be at mid-sky, out of range of the visuals Adele had chosen to import. She tracked the ship’s transmissions–the normal clutter of a working vessel, nothing more–but she had no reason to adjust her imagery.

The thrusters of the IMG40 and Zephyr were building volume also. Adele expected the ships to stage their liftoffs at least a minute apart, but instead they broke from the harbor’s surface within seconds of one another. The IMG40, starting marginally behind its fellow, climbed faster and soon was leading the track into the sky. Either her thrust to weight ratio was significantly higher than the Zephyr’s or her captain was overstressing his thrusters. The latter behavior would be nonsensical, but it was well within what Adele had come to accept as normal for human beings.

She quirked a wry smile, directed at herself. She’d generally felt like an outsider, not really a member of the human species. In this particular case, she was capable of exactly the same sort of pointless rivalry. Perhaps she was more human than she thought.

“Adele?” said Daniel, using their paired connection rather than an official channel. “Can you get me access to what’s going on aboard the Greybudd? I want in particular what’s being said on the bridge and ideally an echo of the command console. Over.”

“Yes,” said Adele, her wands opening links to shunt to Daniel information that she was already gathering for herself. She’d almost said, “Of course I can!” but people–even people like Daniel who knew her very well–didn’t understand quite how completely information was her life.

She’d entered the Greybudd through an automatic channel intended to exchange course and operational data with a similar unit at port control. In Charlestown–and generally on the fringes of civilization–port control was conspicuous by its absence, but the transponder was a standard fitment in every astrogational computer.

It was possible to isolate the telemetry channel from the rest of the computer, but almost no civilian vessel bothered to do so; and Mistress Sand’s technicians had supplied Adele with tools to defeat most firewalls as well. There was no need for that here: Adele had better access to the captain’s console than the Greybudd’s other officers did: the output relay to the Power Room and Mate’s consoles was sticking.

And because Daniel’d asked her, he now had that access.

She returned to her task for the Princess Cecile as opposed to the Princess Cecile’s owner. “Captain,” Adele said over the command channel, “the Greybudd is about to test her plasma thrusters. She’ll be lifting in a few minutes, over.”

“Roger, Mundy,” Vesey said. “Break. Mister Pasternak, prepare to light your thrusters. Over.”

“Been ready this hour past, Captain,” the Chief Engineer said. “Just say the word, over.”

“There!” Daniel said. “Adele, you’re a treasure that a squadron of battleships couldn’t match! Break, Captain, may I address the ship’s company? Six out.”

“Go ahead, Six,” Vesey said. Adele frowned at the flat tone, professional and nothing more. Vesey had become a skilled machine with no emotions save anger which she primarily directed at herself. Adele had spent too many years in that gray world to wish it on anybody else.

Still, so long as skill remained, so did a reason for living. Perhaps something would eventually change for Elspeth Vesey, as it had for Adele Mundy.

The Greybudd lifted with the same shivering grace as the previous three ships of Corius’ argosy. Its image immediately rose out of Adele’s display, but sound diminished with a suddenness that was equally vivid to her now-experienced ear.

“Fellow Sissies,” Daniel said, “this is Six. You may’ve wondered why we’re sitting here in harbor, waiting for Councilor Corius to lift for Dunbar’s World. Well, the answer is that I wasn’t sure he was going to Dunbar’s World. You and I have been places where politics get played with guns.”

You and I come from a place where politics has been played with guns, Daniel, Adele thought. She blinked but then opened her eyes very quickly. If she kept them shut for as much as a second, she’d imagine something she hadn’t really seen: her sister Agatha’s head nailed to Speaker’s Rock.

“The first of those transports has just switched to High Drive and set a course for Dunbar’s World,” Daniel said. “That means it isn’t going to set down again on the plantation of some Councilor who doesn’t approve of the way Yuli Corius does things. So we’re going to Dunbar’s World too, Sissies, with nothing to worry about except a few thousand Pellegrinians and probably half the wogs who’re supposedly on our side. That’s nothing to the RCN, right Sissies?”

From the volume of cheers echoing through the corvette’s interior, you’d scarcely have known that she was short-crewed compared to what Adele was used to. And by now Adele was used to hearing the Sissie’s crew cheering Daniel’s Leary’s words.

He plays them like a flute, Adele thought, and they love it. We love it.

“Six out,” Daniel said.

He’d scarcely spoken the closing before Vesey said, “Power Room, light your thrusters. Break, Ship prepare to lift in sixty, six-zero, seconds. Captain out.”

The high-pitched roar of plasma discharging into the water beneath the Princess Cecile blanketed ordinary sounds within, but noise cancellation by the commo helmets kept Daniel’s voice clear as he said, “Adele, we won’t be in company with the transports so I expect to reach Dunbar’s World six or more likely twelve hours ahead of Corius. We’ll have enough reaction mass left to hold a powered orbit for days, probably. Unless you see a reason to land immediately, I propose to spend that time in orbit to get a better look at what’s going on than we would in Ollarville harbor. Over.”

“I think that’s an excellent idea, Daniel,” Adele said. “You go ahead and look, and I’ll be listening to their transmissions. Out.”

She didn’t add, “And I’ll learn more than you will by an order of magnitude.” That would’ve been discourteous.

And besides, Daniel already knew it.