SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 59:



            Mahler ignored them both and didn't even blink at Fallert. "I didn't expect you so quickly," he said. "Where are your troops?"


            "At present they're in Ollarville," the Councilor said, "but–"


            "Ollarville!" Mahler said. "What bloody good is that? How quick can you get them here?"


            There were two straight chairs in front of the desk. No one else was using them, so Adele sat down and brought out her personal data unit.


            "We might differ about what's useful," Corius said in an increasingly distant voice. He wasn't, Adele surmised, the sort of man who took well to being interrupted. "And they'll stay in Ollarville until we've determined–"


            "Do you have artillery?" Mahler said. He wasn't so much having a conversation as dropping questions into an answer machine. "If I had real artillery, I could–or tanks? By God, with tanks I can smash these pigs right into the sea, into the sea to drown!"


            Adele had been sorting communications, as usual, but without really thinking about it she brought up a sidebar from the unit's internal memory. Normally she'd have the unit linked to far more extensive databases, but this was adequate for her present purposes.


            As she'd expected, the cost of a tank of the sort in current use with the Cinnabar and Alliance armies was comparable to that of a moderate-sized starship. When one added in the expense of transporting the tank from, say, Xenos to Dunbar's World, Mahler's question became either remarkably uninformed or remarkably stupid.


            Or both, of course. Nothing Adele had seen thus far convinced her that Mahler wasn't both.


            "My troops are light infantry," Corius said, his tone as thin as piano wire. "It's my understanding that the Pellegrinians are also light infantry, so that isn't a handicap. Indeed, I can't fathom how one could obtain tanks and heavy artillery anywhere in Ganpat's Reach."


            "Well, beggars can't be choosers," Mahler muttered. He sounded extremely tired; perhaps fatigue rather than stupidity explained his behavior. "They'll be a help even if they won't break the pigs once and for all. I can't get the conscripts to hold with the pigs blasting shells into them. No bloody discipline, that's the problem!"


            "I didn't bring my Volunteers here as cannon fodder," Corius said. "I–"


            "Look, Julie or whatever your name is!" Mahler said. "I'm the Commander in Chief, and I decide who goes where!"


            "Shall I damage him, Councilor?" Fallert asked. His tone was pleasant but the slight lengthening of the sibilants gave it a hint of menace. "If I cut off his foot, perhaps he will listen."


            "Chew it off, I would've thought," Tovera said.


            Mahler stiffened in his seat. He started to open the middle drawer. Daniel leaned over the desk and banged the drawer shut again with his left hand, narrowly missing the fingers Mahler jerked out of the way.


            "Let's not," Daniel said with a smile. "These utilities are rumpled after the long flight, but they were new when I put them on. I don't want to get blood on them, the way I certainly will if you try to shoot it out with my colleagues here."


            "I would not shoot him, Commander Leary," said Fallert. "But yes, there's blood everywhere when one bites through human necks. It is very colorful."


            The snakeman and Tovera laughed in their separate fashions. Adele wasn't sure which was the more unpleasant to hear.


            "Enough!" said Corius sharply. His face lost its momentary blocky stiffness. Smiling again, he went on, "General Mahler, I wouldn't think of usurping your authority, but you must recall that I'm not a Federal citizen under your direct control. I want to work with you to defeat the invaders, but throwing my troops into a battle of attrition against five times their numbers will at best only delay a Pellegrinian victory."


            Mahler leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. "I'll take a delay," he muttered. "I'll take any bloody thing I can get."


            He opened his eyes and said, "You know how I got this job? Because I was willing to take it and nobody else was! I don't have any real troops–the Port Police and the Federal Gendarmerie had some discipline but no training, and by now they're mostly gone. Not much in the way of guns and less ammunition. The main off-planet cargos come in mostly through Ollarville now, so bugger-all gets through to us who need it here!"


            Another salvo of bombardment rockets slammed down. A moment after the fifth warhead detonated, a secondary explosion shook the school building; the windows rattled. Mahler winced.


            "You say you're not under my control?" he said ironically. "Well, neither's the Port Dunbar Militia, the Farmers Brotherhood, the Federal Struggle Association–for all they were raised by the Federal Unity party that's supposedly the government in Sinclos. And we won't even talk about the Action Battalions of the EPL that've arrived here. Best I can tell, they're here to loot Port Dunbar before the Pellegrinians take it over. So why should you be different?"


            "General," Corius said, nodding politely. "My staff and I will conduct a reconnaissance of the war zone, if we may, and then I'll get back to you. I'd appreciate it if you let people know who we are and ask them to give us full facilities, but we won't be a burden on your supply system."


            "Supply system?" Mahler said. "It'd be a fine thing if I had one of those, wouldn't it? But all right, Councilor, do what you can. While I try to stop the pigs from eating the city away one block at a time because I don't have troops who'll hold their position while they're being shelled. Till the pigs get it all."


            "Then we'll–" Corius said. The Whack! of a powerful impeller firing outside the building ended the conversation.