SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 57:



CHAPTER 16: Port Dunbar on Dunbar's World


            Daniel slid back the aircar's roof panel as they cruised slowly down the center of Southern Boulevard. They were only thirty feet in the air and the apartment houses on the right side of the street were mostly five or six stories high. He wanted to be able to see their roofs.


            "I wouldn't do that," Corius warned sharply. "Those tents down there and the buildings're full of refugees from the northern part of the city. You don't know how they'll react to a limousine. They might start throwing things."


            "And they might start shooting," said Hogg. He was standing beside the driver to watch the left side of the boulevard. He held his impeller across his body, ready to shoulder it. "Which is why the master and me're keeping an eye out. Sir."


            "I'm afraid he's right, Councilor," Daniel said apologetically. "If it were only the chance of a flower pot or a roof tile, it wouldn't matter; but people can get very angry when their lives've been turned upside down. And there could be Pellegrinian agents, you know."


            Daniel'd seen enough of mobs during his own short lifetime to appreciate the risks. He'd taken his service pistol from its holster and laid it on his lap, ready for use. He wasn't under any illusions about his pistol marksmanship, but if worse came to worst he thought he could come close enough to disconcert a sniper.


            He thought of suggesting to Adele that she take over the duties with his heavy pistol; her own wasn't intended for use at the hundred feet or so of slant distance to the rooftops. She was lost, though, in whatever flood of information she was gathering as the aircar proceeded toward the Emergency Ministry building. It was a converted secondary school, from what they'd been told in Ollarville.


            Besides, Tovera and Fallert were standing in the back of the vehicle: she with her sub-machine gun and the snakeman holding a wide-mouthed weapon with a drum magazine. Daniel didn't know just what Fallert's gun did, but he was confident that it'd be adequate for whatever purpose he put it to. Tovera obviously respected him, which was as high a recommendation as you could give a conscienceless killer.


            Corius grimaced. "Woodson, can't you get us up a little higher?" he said to the driver. "Over the roofs, I mean."


            "Best not to, Councilor," the sergeant replied. He was a bearded man with a bland expression; a native of Pleasaunce from his accent, Adele said, but apparently happy to serve under a former Cinnabar officer. "They've got plasma cannon on Mandelfarne that'd eat us right up if we gave'em a shot. I'm keeping low so they don't."


            Daniel was wearing his RCN helmet. He brought up a topographic map of the region as a 30% mask through which his eyes continued to search for potential snipers. The coast of Mandelfarne Island was a good ten miles away.


            While cannon the size of the Sissie's–it was unlikely the actual guns were that big–might do lethal damage to an aircar at that distance, there was only the most remote chance of any gun crew managing to bring its weapon on target in the fraction of a second which a moving vehicle offered. Woodson was skillful and he'd managed the full ten-hour drive without relief, but he obviously wasn't a man to scoff at risk.


            Daniel shrugged mentally. That was how a lot of old soldiers managed to have lived to become old soldiers, of course.


            A snarl like giants ripping metal made Daniel hunch reflexively. The quick WHAM/WHAM/WHAM/WHAM/WHAM three seconds later was reassuring. The impacts were over a mile away, in the city's northern suburbs.


            The Pellegrinians had launched a salvo of bombardment rockets at the Federal positions; it had nothing directly to do with the aircar. Black smoke rose beyond the buildings but quickly dissipated: residue from the warheads, not a secondary explosion.


            "They've increased the number of shells they fire every week since the invasion began," Corius said, frowning. "By now half the Rainha's cargo on each resupply run is more rockets."


            "I've never understood why…," Daniel said.


            He paused, his attention drawn by something suddenly stuck over the cornice of a building they were approaching. It turned out to be a wooden pole. A woman began hanging diapers on it to dry.


            "Right," Daniel muttered. "I don't understand why people seem to believe that filling the streets with broken rubble makes a city easier to attack. You could scarcely ask for a better place to conceal your enemies than a jumble of bricks and timber. Even an old woman with a wooden spear can be dangerous in a mess like that."


            "I suspect Arruns is getting desperate," Corius said. He chuckled. "I'd certainly be desperate if I were in his shoes. But–"


            He sobered as quickly as he'd laughed.


            "–I will be in his shoes if I commit my troops to the fighting in the city itself. The only way I can really be effective is to turn their flank, it seems to me."


            Daniel switched his visor display to imagery the Princess Cecile had captured from orbit; the Pellegrinian positions were highlighted in red. He didn't really look at it, though, because he'd absorbed the relevant details while he was waiting for the Bennarian ships to arrive above Dunbar's World.


            "The Pellegrinians have brought heavy equipment," Daniel said. "There're earthworks around their entire position. Their flanks are on the sea. It seems to me that their supply routes are the only place they're vulnerable. Either destroy the barges they're using to ferry supplies from Mandelfarne to the mainland, or prevent them from bringing supplies from Pellegrino itself by threatening the Rainha."


            "Can you do that?" Corius said sharply. "Keep the Rainha from landing on Mandelfarne?"


            "Not so long as she's escorted by a cruiser," Daniel said. "At least not while the Sissie is the closest thing to a warship that I have to work with. I'm second to none in my belief in what the RCN can achieve with limited resources–"


            He smiled to emphasize the humor of what he was saying, but it was the flat truth as well.


            "–but I won't throw away my ship and the lives of my crew for a gesture on behalf of the Federal Republic of Bennaria."


            Corius grunted and said, "Then we'll have to find another way to do it, won't we?"


            The median strips on Southern Boulevard were as wide as the traffic lanes on either side. Originally they'd been grassy and dotted with flower beds, but now shanties made from scrap wood and plastic sheeting covered them. Downdraft from the aircar's fans ruffled the flimsy structures, though none actually collapsed.


            Refugees looked up, their expressions unreadable. A surprising number were men of what Daniel thought of as military age.


            Well, he wasn't here to help the Bennarian government reform its military recruitment policies. Though he was beginning to wonder why he was here at all, given the general lack of enthusiasm for his mission on Bennaria and the absence of resources on Dunbar's World.


            "I think this is the place, sir," said the driver in a raised voice. Without waiting for direction, he eased back on the yoke and curved the aircar down toward a complex of two-story brick buildings ahead on the right. The complex filled much of a city block whose perimeter was bounded by chain link fencing. Vehicles, mostly ground cars, were parked inside the fence. The sandbagged blockhouses at each of the three driveway entrances were newly built.


            Daniel laughed cheerfully. Corius gave him a wary look and said, "I'm not joking, Commander. I intend to defeat the Pellegrinians."


            "And so do I, Councilor," Daniel said, "so do I. Because if we don't do that, why, the only reason I'd have for being here would be to keep me out of the way of Admiral Vocaine. I have too much confidence in the leadership of the RCN to believe in anything so cynical."


            He laughed again as the car landed, but the Councilor's expression became even more guarded.