SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 63:



            Daniel could see scores of lights across Mandelfarne Island. A few were on moving vehicles. More were area lights on poles erected in front of pre-fab buildings–operations rooms and officers' quarters, presumably; Daniel's goggles easily picked out the details. The largest number were low-wattage incandescents which snaked on jury-rigged lines from the fusion plant on the north shore of the island and through the tents of the enlisted personnel.


            From the lack of visual security at the base, one got the impression that the Pellegrinian garrison didn't think it was at war. To a degree they were right: the Federal troops had no long-range artillery, and an air attack would be quick suicide against plasma cannon. The sloppiness still made Daniel frown.


            Though of course they're the enemy, he thought. He'd forgotten that. His face broke into a familiar smile.


            Fallert was stooging along at thirty miles an hour so that he could keep the car's underside close to the wave tops without lifting spray. They'd raced northwest across the sea till they were out of sensor range of Mandelfarne, then dropped low and returned slowly to avoid notice.


            Daniel wasn't sure what Corius and Quinn intended by this reconnaissance, but for his own part he wasn't particularly interested in what he saw at the present. The goggles, however, were gathering and storing multi-spectral data which he and Adele would analyze at leisure. They'd be just as useful with Hogg wearing them, and very nearly as useful strapped to the aircar's frame.


            "Leary?" said the Councilor, leaning over the back of his seat. "The Colonel here thinks there must be a thousand personnel on Mandelfarne. What do you think?"


            Daniel adjusted his goggles as he eyed the speckles of light. They weren't going to tell him more than they already had, but the activity gave him a moment to consider.


            "At least that, I should think," he said. It depended on the size of the tents and how densely Arruns packed his troops into them, but allowing for a similar number of lights on the other side of the island… at least a thousand. "We don't have to guess, though. I'm confident that Officer Mundy will have an accurate figure by the time we return."


            "How's she going to do that?" said Quinn. "I thought she was waiting for us back at the warehouse."


            Daniel shrugged, though he didn't suppose the gesture was visible in this light. "Pay records," he said. He'd worked with Adele long enough to have an idea of her methods, though in truth it still seemed like magic to him. "Movement orders. The location of unit HQs coupled with their tables of organization."


            "She can do all that from the warehouse?" Quinn said. He sounded plaintive. "I thought she was just a signals officer."


            "She's a signals officer," Daniel said dryly. "But no, she's not only that."


            He switched his goggles to infrared; Pellegrinian equipment showed up as bright blotches on the cooler land. To see details he'd have had to raise the magnification higher than he could hold on target without engaging the stabilizer, but the four plasma cannon in pits near the shore were obvious. The psychological effect of plasma bolts would be as crushing to an assault as the bolts themselves–and those would blast any aircraft or troop-laden fishing boat into flaming debris.


            "Check with her now, Commander," Corius said. "It'd be helpful to know the numbers immediately. You do have a link, don't you?"


            "No sir," Daniel said. In strict honesty he did have a link, but he had absolutely no intention of using it for pointless chatter. "We'll have the data before we start the actual planning on our return, I'm sure."


            "The Rainha is beginning her approach," said a voice in Daniel's ear. He knew it was Adele speaking only because it had to be; compression and the distortion-correcting algorithms in the laser communicator stripped all the personality out of the words. They were at the very limit of line-of-sight communication here.


            Daniel picked out the shimmer of plasma thrusters in the western sky. The ship was still high enough that the atmosphere blocked the dangerous actinics, so the goggle filters didn't deploy.


            He bent forward and said, "The Rainha's coming in. If we can get closer to the island, I'd like a good view of their landing procedures."


            He'd been speaking to Corius, expecting him to relay the instruction to Fallert if he approved it, but the reptileman was apparently able to hear better over the fans than a human could. Daniel felt the direction of thrust shift as the aircar swung slowly toward the island.


            The distant ship's thrumming vibrated the night even over the car's intake whine. The flare of ionized atoms returning to their normal state was first brighter than any star, then brighter than the small moon. It continued to increase. Daniel's goggles dimmed the discharge, but a ghost of the thrusters' rainbow aura remained.


            Only one ship was landing: the Duilio remained in orbit. The warehouse personnel had told Daniel that was the procedure. He hadn't doubted what they said–it was the logical way for the Pellegrinians to operate, after all–but he liked to see things for himself. He didn't have a plan or an inkling of a plan at the moment, but when he did he'd have the facts right.


            The Rainha swelled into a fat, blunt-ended cylinder flanked by the lesser cylinders of its outriggers, bathed in its own exhaust. The roar of its descent sent ripples across the sea's surface, even miles away. Daniel smiled, unconsciously moved by the sight of a starship and all the wonder and delight that brought to his mind.


            His earpiece blipped at him. He couldn't hear the message over the Rainha's thunder.


            "Say again, over," he said, cupping his hand over the earpiece. His response went out as VHF because the aircar's commo suite didn't have a laser emitter. Daniel was taking Adele's transmission's through the goggles, but the tiny RCN sending unit was useless beyond intercom range.