SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 60:



            Adele drew her pistol. She didn't have time to case the wands properly, but her right hand slid them with the data unit into her thigh pocket as she turned in the direction of the shot. At a conscious level it would've made more sense to leave the little computer on the desk, but she was operating on reflex.


            And it was a good reflex. A workman who doesn't put her tools away when she's done with them probably isn't much of a craftsman.


            Fallert faced the door, his weapon aimed down the empty corridor. It'd be a bad time for office workers to run out waving their arms in panic, Adele thought, but that wasn't a present concern.


            Daniel and Tovera were at the outside windows. She held her sub-machine gun–of course–but Daniel hadn't drawn the heavy pistol he wore with his utilities as an officer on detached service.


            Quinn had dropped to the floor and was trying to pull Corius down beside him; the Councilor was looking in the direction of the shot but seemed startled rather than afraid. Adele stepped on the small of Quinn's back in her haste to look down onto the parking lot, but she was off again as quickly and she didn't weigh enough for the accident to matter.


            Six men in black shirts, workman's trousers, and black berets surrounded the Bennarian aircar thirty feet away. Two of them held pistols openly; the others wore holsters. It didn't surprise Adele to see that the red-and-white rosette of the EPL was pinned to the berets. Woodson had gotten out of the vehicle but was trapped against it, his hands half-raised.


            Hogg had backed toward the building to keep the EPL goons in front of him. He held the stocked impeller in his right hand like a huge pistol; it was pointed skyward. The weapon's powerful flux vaporized the aluminum driving band of its heavy-metal projectile. That glowing cloud had dissipated, but Adele's nose wrinkled with the sharpness of ozone.


            "Any time, mistress!" Tovera said. Her voice had the quivering eagerness of a cat poised to spring.


            "Don't shoot!" said Daniel. "We can't afford civil war!"


            He jumped out of the window. It was twelve feet to the ground. Or perhaps fifteen? The only way Adele could've been sure would be by checking the building's blueprints, and she wasn't quite obsessive enough to go searching for them at the present instant.


            Daniel scrunched heavily on the gravel but didn't fall. Straightening–his knees had flexed–he strode purposefully toward the car.


            "Mistress?" Tovera said. "Any time!"


            "You there!" Daniel called. He seemed to have forgotten his holstered pistol. "Do you know who I am? I'm Commander Daniel Leary of the RCN! See this?"


            He fluffed out the left breast of his jacket with one hand and pointed with the other at the tape reading RCN in subdued lettering. It was probably unreadable against the blotched gray pattern of the utilities, but the bit of business consumed time enough for several more steps. "Cinnabar! Republic of Cinnabar!"


            "Is this car yours?" said a red-haired thug whose darker moustache flared into his sideburns. He seemed to be a full head taller than Daniel, though the angle prevented Adele from being sure. "I'm Storm-Captain Pintada. There's a war on, buddy, and we're taking the car for military purposes!"


            "That's a bloody lie!" shouted General Mahler, standing at the other window beside Tovera. "Get out of here, you thieves! Guards!"


            "Right!" said Pintada. "We're taking the bloody car and anybody who–"


            He put his hand on the latch of the car's front door. Daniel gripped Pintada's elbow. Pintada spun, jerking his arm free, then swung his left fist at Daniel. Daniel caught Pintada's wrist in both hands, kicked him in the crotch, and continued to twist and lift the bigger man's arm to keep him from doubling up.


            "Mistress!" Tovera said.


            Each of the six thugs wore a target in Adele's mind, over the eye or the temple or the side of the neck. She waited with her little pistol vertical beside her left ear because she'd been trained as a duelist rather than a combat shooter, but at this range she wouldn't miss; she never missed.


            She'd only get one or possibly two of them, though. As soon as her shot started the game, Tovera's sub-machine gun would finish it. And Adele didn't shoot, because she knew–and Daniel knew, that's why he was risking his life down there now–that killing EPL thugs would mean civil war among those who'd been trying to stop the invaders. Navy House hadn't sent her and Daniel to Dunbar's World to decide the war in the Pellegrinians' favor.


            "RCN!" Daniel bellowed, shaking Pintada like a cat toy. "Is that what you want, you backwoods dog-turds? War with Cinnabar?"


            A squat, black-haired thug was dancing about with his pistol drawn, trying to decide whether to risk a shot. The EPL contingent hadn't expected their victims to start the violence, and their leader was screaming too loudly to give coherent orders.


            "I wouldn't do that, sonny," said Hogg. The gunman turned his head, saw the muzzle of the big impeller three inches from his right eye, and squealed. He tried to swing his pistol.


            Hogg stabbed the impeller like a blunt spear, tearing the man's cheek open and smashing the thin bones behind it. The man threw his hands up, hitting himself in the face with his own pistol. He gave a gobbling cry and ran blindly into the cab of a parked truck. He bounced off, hit the ground, and collapsed.


            The three men who hadn't drawn their pistols began to back away. The last had one hand on the grip of his weapon and the other on the muzzle. His mouth was slackly open. Daniel stepped toward him, holding Pintada close to his body, then shoved him hard against the gunman. The pistol fell to the ground. The man who'd dropped it fled toward the open gate, drawing his three fellows along with him.


            Several men in Federal uniforms stood beside the blockhouse. They let the EPL squad run past unhindered, just as they hadn't interfered with the attempted car theft. Daniel let Pintada fall to the ground and bent over, leaning against the aircar so that he could gasp air into his lungs.


            "We need to go now," Adele said crisply, swinging away from the window. The drop to the ground was too far. She hadn't trained as a midshipman, chasing like a monkey among the antennas of starships. If she jumped she'd at best make a fool of herself and very possibly wind up a cripple besides. She ran down the corridor, still holding the pistol.


            Before Adele'd reached the stairs, Fallert bounded past. Tovera would be guarding the rear, then. A good team, indeed.


            When they reached the parking area, Daniel'd stood up and was tugging at his utilities. Loose as they were, he'd  torn the right sleeve off. Woodson stared in disbelief as Hogg lifted the groaning Pintada's head halfway into the driver's compartment.


            "You want the car, wog?" he shouted.


            And slammed the door with his foot.