SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 53:



            Adele intensely disliked using her visor and its simple cursor controls in place of a proper display linked to her wands, but while she was walking down Water Street she didn't have a better option. She was uncomfortably aware that Barnes and Dasi kept step, poised to catch her if she stumbled. It was embarrassing, but falling on her face would be still more embarrassing. That was a real possibility, given the state of the pavement and the fact she was seeing through a 70% mask of projected data.


            The half-dozen guards at the entrance to the Federal Building were in laborers' clothes, loose dark trousers and striped shirts, but they all wore the red-and-white EPL rosette somewhere on their garments. They bent their heads close and buzzed to one another as the combined Bennarian and RCN contingent approached; one man scurried inside. None of them had been in the delegation which had visited the Princess Cecile earlier in the afternoon.


            "Colonel Quinn?" said Corius in a carrying voice. "If those ruffians open their mouths, I want you to have them soundly thrashed."


            "Very good, sir," said Quinn, sounding like he meant it.


            Hogg turned to Fallert and said conversationally, "Say, I could come to like your master."


            The lizardman laughed again. "He won't let me eat the hearts of those I kill for him, though," he said. His pronunciation of Standard was excellent, though he didn't or couldn't give labial consonants their proper emphasis. "I don't know why. It's only cannibalism when it occurs within a single species."


            "S'pose he means it?" Barnes said in a husky whisper, ostensibly to his partner but of necessity speaking across Adele.


            She didn't reply. She simply didn't know the answer, and she wasn't good at making empty conversation.


            The EPL contingent backed out of the doorway; two even walked quickly away as if late for a distant appointment. A man whose crossbelts supported two pistols remained to glower at the foreigners, his hands on his hips.


            Woetjans grinned and butt-stroked him in the pit of the stomach, knocking him out into the street. He thrashed, curling up in a ball and retching uncontrollably. There was general laughter from Sissies and the Volunteers alike.


            The entrance hall was empty except for a desk littered with wine bottles and papers. The desktop was marble; somebody'd carved his initials on it with a knife and one corner'd been broken off. A door down the back hallway banged behind whoever'd been in the hall before the foreigners arrived.


            "The Federal governor has the suite of offices to the right," Adele said, gesturing with her right index finger. "His name's Zorhachy, and a personal assistant named Moorer has remained on duty also. The rest of the Federal staff have either resigned or left Ollarville for points west."


            "How does she know that?" said Quinn in surprise. He was looking at his employer when he started the question but had moved his eyes onto Daniel by the time he finished it.


            Neither man answered him, but Dasi tapped the side of his nose and said, "That'd be telling, little feller. But if Mistress Mundy says it, you can take it to the bank."


            Councilor Corius knocked firmly on the door Adele had indicated. "Governor Zorhachy, I'd like to speak with you," he said. His tone didn't make it a question.


            "You can't come in!" called a voice from inside. There'd originally been a frosted glass panel in the top half of the door, but it'd been replaced with a sheet of plywood nailed from the inside. The points of several nails stuck out through the panel.


            "Sir, this is Councilor Yuli Corius!" Corius said. "It's necessary that I speak with you."


            He rattled the door, then shoved. It was bolted shut. "Please!" Corius said. "I don't want to break it down!"


            "I'll get it," Woetjans said, measuring the distance and turning slightly so that a perfect half-turn would bring the heel of her boot squarely onto the latch plate. "Just move aside!"


            "Don't shoot!" called a different voice from inside. "My God, Governor, I'll not be shot just because you want to be a hero!"


            A crossbolt slid back; a plump man in frock coat and vest jerked the door open. Behind was a younger man in similar garb and a much older one wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a string tie. Behind the desk at the back was the man Adele recognized from file images as Governor Zorhachy; the blond youth beside him must be Moorer. A pistol lay on the desktop; both men were studiously not looking at it.


            "Look, we're shippers, Beltras and Conning and me," said the man who'd opened the door. He was probably ruddy at most times, but now he was pale except for hectic patches on both cheeks. "We've nothing to do with politics, nothing! We just came to talk with the Governor, that's all. Let us go and you can do what you please with him!"


            "For pity's sake!" said Corius. "What are you afraid of? I'm Councilor Corius of Bennaria, come here to aid you against the Pellegrinian invasion. I just want to arrange supplies and billeting for my men until they can be transferred to the seat of the war."


            "The only way you'll get supplies here is from the EPL," said the man who'd opened the door. "And they won't be getting any more either because they pay with their own scrip. As isn't worth wiping your ass with!"


            All Adele knew about the speaker was that he was a shipper and his name probably wasn't Beltras or Conning. She stepped into the office; there was an occasional table by the door. She put the file boxes stacked there on the floor and sat on the table, bringing out her personal data unit. It was a relief to have proper apparatus instead of directing a cursor with tongue motions.