SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 61:



CHAPTER 17: Port Dunbar on Dunbar's World


            Daniel awoke in near darkness. In the instant it took for his eyes to begin working, Hogg whispered, "Wakie, wakie, young master. The fish won't wait."


            "It's bigger game tonight, Hogg," Daniel said, pulling on the trousers he'd hung as usual on a chair by his bunk; his tunic waited under them. "Is Officer Mundy up?"


            "Yes," said Adele from the hallway. "And I believe I heard Fallert speaking to the Councilor."


            Daniel slid his feet into his soft-soled ship's boots. He'd been only a child when he got the trick of awakening at any set time without need for an alarm; he didn't know whether it was Hogg training him always to be ready on time for a fishing or hunting trip or if the training had simply uncovered an innate ability.


            "Here you go, master," Hogg said, handing Daniel a stocked impeller. "You were never much use with a pistol, so I found you this instead of having you weight your belt down for no good reason."


            "Thanks," Daniel said, turning the weapon over and trying the balance. It was a carbine, perhaps from Gendarmerie stocks. He didn't bother asking if Hogg was sure it worked: he wouldn't have given it to Daniel without testing it for function and accuracy.


            Daniel also didn't ask how Hogg had 'found' the weapon. It didn't bother Daniel that the means were probably illegal–so were some of the ways Daniel had used to arm and equip the Princess Cecile the way she needed to be–but there were things that he'd object to if he knew about them. Hogg had fewer scruples or better focus on the task in hand, whichever way you wanted to describe the difference. Best not to explore the details.


            "Commander?" said Corius, entering the cubicle where Daniel had slept. "I've decided that Fallert will drive. We've decided, that is; he suggested it."


            Daniel snapped his equipment belt around him. The communicator, handlight, and first aid pouch were there, but the pistol in its flap holster and the extra magazines had been removed: Hogg had spoken literally. He generally did, a habit that would've made many people uncomfortable if they'd realized he wasn't exaggerating.


            They'd eaten and slept in a warehouse belonging to a merchant who'd done business with Corius in peacetime. The man–Adele probably knew his name, but it didn't matter to Daniel–had fled to Sinclos when the fighting started, but the armed staff he'd left behind had made Corius and his entourage as comfortable as the circumstances permitted.


            "It's your vehicle," Daniel said. He'd never thought about the snakeman being able to pilot an aircar; there was no reason why he shouldn't. He smiled: Tovera had learned, after all.


            Woodson was technically as good a driver as you could ask for, but Daniel didn't trust him to push a reconnaissance as close to the enemy defenses as was necessary for it to be useful. Daniel hadn't been alone in that opinion, apparently.


            He put on his goggles. He'd planned to wear his commo helmet, but he couldn't get a proper cheek weld on the carbine's stock if he did; he'd make do with the earclip communicator attached to the goggles' frame.


            They walked into the main bay of the warehouse where the aircar was parked. The long translucent panels in the building's roof let in enough light through years of bird droppings and general grime that Daniel didn't need his goggles.


            A mélange of rich odors filled the big room: spices, Daniel thought, but of course they might've been from exotic forms of decay. Two attendants talked in low voices near the waterside door, watching the foreigners covertly.


            Corius frowned when he saw Daniel's impeller. "I'm not proposing to attack Arruns' base tonight," he said. "Just to get a look at it. I wouldn't think those guns were necessary."


            "They might be necessary," said Fallert unexpectedly. "Therefore they are necessary, Councilor. Hogg informs me that his master is expert; that permits me to drive instead of keeping watch."


            "All right, if you feel it's the right thing to do," Corius said with a shrug as he got into the aircar. Its roof panels had been removed, leaving the tubular framework they were ordinarily locked onto. Daniel wondered if they were sturdy enough to act as a roll cage, though as the car'd be over water on most of this patrol it probably didn't matter.


            "To be honest," Corius added, "I wouldn't have guessed that the Cinnabar navy spent much time on marksmanship training."


            "The RCN doesn't," said Daniel, deliberately taking a seat behind that of Corius. Tonight Quinn could ride with the Councilor; Daniel wanted to be able to concentrate on the terrain and the data feed Adele would be providing. "It's an accomplishment expected of a country gentleman, however, which in my younger days–"


            He smiled to suggest he was joking. In all truth, his civilian life seemed a lifetime distant. Though seven years didn't seem like a long time even to him when he spoke the words.


            "–I was."


            Corius nodded. "Yes, of course," he murmured.


            "Daniel," said Adele, standing beside the vehicle. "I can monitor the spectra just as easily if I come along with you. I linked my data unit through the car's radio on the flight from Ollarville, you know."


            Daniel frowned as he tried to puzzle out what she was actually saying. "There's not an advantage to your being in the car, is there?" he said.


            "Well, no, but I can be," Adele repeated.


            "Mistress," said Tovera, "neither of us can use long arms well enough to be useful tonight. Rather than add weight to the car, why don't you stay in the warehouse office as planned while I defend you against Pellegrinian infiltrators."


            "And cockroaches," Hogg said from the front bench beside Fallert. "Some I saw tonight could carry away a rat."


            "Officer Mundy?" Daniel said now that he understood the question, "I'd prefer that you be in a place where you can concentrate on keeping us alive, rather than worrying about being thrown out of the car if we have to maneuver. I'm fairly confident that there'll be other occasions soon on which you can demonstrate your manly courage."


            "Yes, of course," said Adele. "I'll get up to the office right now."


            She cleared her throat and added, "That was very foolish. Sorry, I'll be more careful."


            "The RCN," Daniel said softly, "has built its reputation on the habit of taking the more dangerous course unless some other method could better achieve the desired result. In this case, I'm ordering you to stay on shore because you'll be more effective. But no, that wasn't foolish, Mundy."


            Fallert fluffed the car's ducted fans, four of them in pairs forward and aft. "We are prepared, Councilor," he said over the intake noise. Dust whirled and eddied among the crates and bales.


            "All right, open the door!" Corius shouted. When the attendants didn't act for a moment he waved violently. Finally they started shoving the heavy panel sideways. Fallert lifted and slid the car forward before the opening was sufficient; the attendants shouted and put their backs into the job.


            Accelerating and with no more than inches to spare on either side, the aircar shot out over the barge dock. They skimmed the water for a moment before Fallert rose ten feet so that they no longer kicked up an obvious plume of spray. Mandelfarne Island lay ahead.