SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 58:



            As Adele stretched, working out stiffness from the long ride, Hogg called to Tovera, "You want to stay with the car or shall I?"


            "You're the sturdy outdoorsman, Hogg," Tovera said. "Besides, that great clumsy impeller wouldn't be nearly as useful inside a building as my attaché case."


            She tapped the case of pebble-grained black leather that she always carried. The small sub-machine gun nestled inside wouldn't show up even under a fluoroscope.


            "Yeah, right," Hogg said, but he wasn't arguing the decision. "I could maybe kick one in the crotch, don't you think, mistress?"


            Corius turned in surprise and mild irritation. "You can both come in if you like," he said. "Woodson will stay with the car."


            "That's all right, sir," Hogg said. "I'll keep him company."


            The front entrance was up three broad, concrete steps. The uniforms of the two guards there didn't fit; the men themselves were very young and looked younger. They straightened as Corius, his bodyguard, and Quinn a step behind strode toward them.


            Daniel leaned close to Adele and whispered. "Did you notice Fallert's throat sack? It's flushing. If he were a real lizard, I'd say it was a courtship display."


            "And what makes you think it isn't?" Adele said, settling her data unit into its pocket as she and Daniel followed the Bennarians.


            "But Adele," Daniel said. "There's no…. My God! You mean Tovera! That's…. That's disgusting!"


            "Well, Daniel," Adele said. "There are some of us who put all human reproductive behavior in the 'disgusting' category. Though I know you and I probably differ on the point.”


            Daniel laughed at the humor of it. "I know perfectly well that we humans are animals," he said as they climbed the steps together. "But I just don't think of us that way."


            "Good," said Adele. "Because if you did, you'd be a different person."


            A person more like your father, she thought, but she didn't let the thought reach her tongue.


            "I'm Councilor Corius with my staff," Corius said to the sentries generally. From what Adele could see, they were untrained recruits and bored rather than worried. "I have an appointment with General Mahler."


            Adele frowned: that wasn't precisely true. Corius had spoken to Mahler from Ollarville before setting out, but they hadn't–couldn't have–set an exact time for the meeting.


            Her expression softened into the wry smile that'd become more frequent since she'd met Daniel: she was focusing on words again instead of on the purpose for which the words were spoken. That purpose, to get into the presence of the military commander of Port Dunbar, was a valid one, so she shouldn't object to the way it was achieved.


            The smile grew wider: so long as she didn't have to tell lies herself.


            "Sure, sir," said a guard–the one on whom Corius had fixed his gaze, probably at random. "His office's upstairs and all the way to the right. He may not be in, though."


            "He's in," said Adele as she entered the building beside Daniel. Mahler was arguing with the Minister of Defense in Sinclos, the temporary capital, about his need for water purification equipment; the Pellegrinians had captured the water plant in their initial assault.


            "How do you know?" Colonel Quinn asked plaintively as they stepped briskly up the central staircase.


            Adele had been listening to Mahler's conversation among others from as soon as she'd gotten close enough to the city to conect her data unit through the aircar's transceiver. Federal communications security was appallingly bad, and the Pellegrinian field units weren't much better.


            Arruns' headquarters on Mandelfarne Island, on the other hand, was thoroughly professional–and, judging from various recognizable quirks, was almost certainly staffed by an Alliance signals detachment. Given time and the full facilities of the Princess Cecile Adele could break their security, but for the present it remained impenetrable.


            Adele simply shrugged; she was concentrating on the present situation. Besides, Quinn wouldn't understand any better if she described the process to him, so he might as well think she was a mentalist of some sort.


            Fallert bounded to the top ahead of the rest of the party; his thin legs took three steps at a time without apparent strain. Tovera was backing up at the rear, her eyes on the outside door.


            "They're well matched," Daniel whispered, indicating Fallert with a tiny nod. He smiled at his joke, but Adele thought the expression was strained. That made her smile.


            The rooms to either side of the hallway were occupied by men in uniform–though not quite the same uniforms–and women, seated at one-piece writing desks which were bolted to the floor in neat rows. They were working with ledgers and loose sheets of paper;


            Adele noticed only one computer as she passed, on the combination desk and lectern at the front of one room. The portly man seated there wasn't using the equipment or doing any other useful work that she could see. He watched with increasing outrage as Corius and his entourage walked by, then cried to their backs, "You there! This is a restricted area!"


            A hand-lettered sign reading Commander in Chief had been taped over the original legend painted on the frosted glass of the room at the end of the corridor. Nobody was in the outer office. Corius opened the door to the inner office and walked through.


            "What?" said the bearded man seated behind the desk inside. He'd been speaking into a phone connected to his computer. "What? Who're you?"


            "I'm Yuli Corius, commander of the Bennarian Volunteers," Corius said. "I want to discuss the deployment of the two thousand troops I've brought to Dunbar's World."


            "What?" said the man. Adele recognized General Mahler, a former district governor who in his youth had been a cadet officer on Novy Sverdlovsk. In the most recent image he'd had a neat goatee, but it had spread into a ragged brush in the past month. Into the phone he continued, "Minister, I'll get back with you!" and banged the handset into its cradle.


            "General Mahler?" Corius said. "This is my staff. Commander Leary here is an advisor sent to me by the RCN."


            Adele felt her lips purse in disapproval. Daniel simply smiled engagingly, though, clearly not troubled by the way Corius had described his mission. Daniel was doubtless correct as to what was important in the greater scheme of things, but Adele had rather different personal priorities.