SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 51:

The Greybudd had landed two slips away from the Princess Cecile and the air still roiled with hot steam and the sharpness of ozone from her thrusters. Rust obscured the transport’s number, but a checkerboard of replacement hull plates made Daniel sure of his identification. Besides, Corius would’ve brought his own vessel down first.

He and Adele walked down the boarding ramp to meet the four officials. They wore berets with a red-and-white rosette. Two were in khaki uniforms; one wore a uniform jacket with shapeless blue trousers; and the last had similar trousers, a horizontally striped shirt, and went barefoot.

All wore pistols and belt knives. The barefoot fellow carried a crude-looking shoulder weapon with a drum magazine, probably a shotgun powered by chemical explosives.

Daniel continued to smile, but in all truth they weren’t a prepossessing bunch.

“I’m Pennant-Leader Onsbruck,” said the huskier of the men in full uniform. He was in his mid-twenties, a little older than Daniel but younger by a decade than the other uniformed man and the thug with the shotgun. The fellow in the khaki jacket was a slight teenager with acne and close-set eyes. “We’re here to take charge of your ship till the full Committee can assess it.”

“And your guns,” said the older uniformed man. He was over six feet tall but stooped and soft-looking. A bookkeeper before the war, Daniel thought. Some sort of office worker, at any rate. “Foreigners aren’t allowed to have guns in Ollarville.”

Woetjans, standing on the ramp with five husky spacers ready for anything, spat into the water. She cradled an impeller in the crook of her left arm, but Daniel suspected that if trouble started she’d kick the man with the shotgun in the balls and then strike right and left with the stock of her weapon. The bosun was a good shot and big enough that the impeller’s heavy recoil didn’t faze her, but shooting was just a job to her. She took personal pleasure in breaking bones, however.

“Yes,” Daniel said, nodding agreeably. “I think for now it’s best that you consider us Dunbar citizens since we’re here to help your government against the Pellegrinians. And there’s no question of turning over an RCN warship without a decree of the Cinnabar Senate, of course, so you’ll have to pass on that also.”

“Who do you think you’re ordering around?” Onsbruck demanded, his face getting red. The kid with acne looked even more like a rat than he had to start with; his hands were twitching. “If you foreigners come here, you either obey our regulations or you’re no better than those piss-ants from Pellegrino!”

Hogg was on the Sissie’s spine, sitting on a telescoped yard and goggling at the harbor. An impeller was concealed in the furled sail beside him. Given how quickly Hogg could snap off a shot, Woetjans might not get much chance to crack skulls after all.

Daniel’s smile grew broader. This lot wouldn’t make trouble, though. Not when Yuli Corius was landing with two thousand troops even as the discussion took place.

Adele’s eyes had a bright, unfocused look that Daniel had learned to interpret: she’d been listening to something through her commo helmet. Her gaze suddenly locked on the chief of the local delegation.

“I assure you, Master Onsbruck,” she said, snapping out syllables like a series of mousetraps closing, “that as representatives of Cinnabar, we’ll be punctilious about dealing with the Federal Republic of Dunbar. We have no right to become involved in your domestic politics, however, nor do we intend to do so. Whether you’re here as private citizens or as members of the Eastern Provinces League, you have no right to involve yourselves in our mission.”

“We are the government here!” the little rat said. “We’ve got the power!”

“You’ve got shit,” said Woetjans in an even voice. When the youth reached for the pistol under his belt, Woetjans stepped forward and stiff-armed him into the water.

The thug with the shotgun looked at Onsbruck and said, “What? What?”

“Don’t!” Daniel said, but talking didn’t seem a sufficient way to deal with the situation. He grabbed the shotgun at the balance with both hands and twisted counterclockwise. The thug twisted back. Daniel reversed his effort, swinging the weapon in an arc that ended when the gun-butt thumped the thug’s right temple.

The thin fellow dropped his clipboard and stood transfixed. Onsbruck himself threw his hands in the air and cried, “I’m not fighting! I’m not fighting!” in a voice that rose into the treble range.

“I am!” said Dasi. He grabbed Onsbruck by the throat and right arm; his partner Barnes seized the other wrist and elbow and started to twist them the wrong way.

“Belay that!” Daniel said. “Barnes, let him go!”

“Aw, sir…,” said Dasi, but he was grinning. He released Onsbruck’s neck but kept hold of the wrist. His now-freed right hand drew one the knives from the local’s belt and cut the belt itself through. It fell to the ramp with the other knife, the holstered pistol, and a trio of grenades.

“Somebody fish the little one out of the water, will you?” Daniel said peevishly. “Woetjans, pull him out, if you please.”

He was breathing hard and he’d lost his cap. He looked at the shotgun. The closed breech showed a gap of over an eighth of an inch; the casing of the chambered round was readily visible. I wonder which end’s the more dangerous. He grimaced and tossed the weapon into the harbor.

Woetjans bent over but apparently decided that she couldn’t easily reach the man struggling in the water. Grinning she poked the muzzle of her impeller down while gripping the stock with both hands. “Here you go, sonny,” she said. “Just catch hold. And don’t worry, the safety’s on–I think!”

Simkins, another of the spacers on guard, was looking over the other side of the ramp. “Hey!” she called. “There’s a body here. Bloody hell, there’s two bodies!”

Daniel stepped to her side. The bodies were so ripe that they bulged at the necks and wrists where their clothes constricted them. One wore a striped shirt and workman’s trousers like the EPL thug; the other had pantaloons and a tunic with puffed sleeves, female fashion on Pellegrino and the planets trading with it.

The corpses had been shot in the back of the neck. The wounds were red and swollen; the flesh was black everywhere else it was exposed.

“What’s this?” Daniel said sharply, glancing at the EPL officials. Onsbruck was rubbing his left elbow with his right hand. He looked up sullenly and said, “It’s nothing to you. They were traitors, probably. We don’t coddle traitors in Ollarville.”

Daniel noticed his hands were clenching and unclenching. He deliberately spread his fingers wide. He’d really like to throw this fellow into the harbor and hope he couldn’t stay afloat as well as the boy accompanying him had, but that wasn’t the job of an RCN officer. What happened between citizens of Dunbar’s World was a domestic affair.

“Go on back to your kennel, Master Onsbruck,” he said pleasantly. “And take the rest of your pack with you, if you please.”

Onsbruck bent to pick up his equipment belt. Daniel shoved him: not a blow, simply a matter of placing his hand on Onsbruck’s head and pushing. The EPL official shot backward, off the ramp and several feet beyond. He sprawled on his back when his feet couldn’t backpedal fast enough to keep him upright.

“I believe I gave you directions once already, Onsbruck,” Daniel said, his voice still quiet. He used the side of his boot to skid the belt into the water with a loud splash.

Daniel looked over his shoulder. There were automatic impellers mounted in three open hatches, and the dorsal turret was trained on the city. Another twenty spacers stood in the main hatch under Cory; they were armed to the teeth. Hogg and Tovera slipped through them, grinning like the fiends they were.

“Master Cory,” Daniel said, “take charge of the security here if you will, till Captain Vesey gives you other orders. Woetjans, you and your squad to accompany Officer Mundy and myself just down the quay to the Greybudd. I have some matters to discuss with Councilor Corius.”