SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 64:



            As he spoke, he switched his viewing mode from light amplification to IR. He saw an APC lifting from the opposite shore of Mandelfarne Island even as Adele said, "You've been… The APCs they use to es… are to shoot you … … was manned when the alert sounded. O…"


            "Fallert!" Daniel said. He pointed his carbine as the snakeman's head turned enough to catch the motion with his peripheral vision. Air compressed by the APC's fans was a warm plume spreading beneath the vehicle. "They're on us!"


            Fallert shifted his throttles and steering yoke. The car stayed low as it accelerated, but to Daniel's surprise the stern lifted slightly. The downdraft threw up the expected roostertail, but because the car wasn't level the spray was nearly the length of the vehicle behind where Daniel would've expected it to be.


            Oh, yes. Fallert knew how to pilot an aircar.


            "I am returning to base!" the snakeman called. "We could not be fully recharged before we left tonight. If I let them chase us out to sea, I do not know that we will be able to return."


            We ought to be able to make it, Daniel thought. He loosened his seat belt with his left hand as his head turned to follow the APC. No plasma cannon had much range in an atmosphere, and that was true in spades for the little popgun the APC carried.


            It wasn't a popgun compared to an aircar, of course.


            The faint hope that the APC didn't see them–that it'd been sent out because somebody on shore had heard sounds–was dashed when the big vehicle curved toward the aircar. It was seven miles distant but on an interior course, and the aircar had ten miles to go to the safety of the shore. Though the Federals didn't have plasma cannon of their own, a burst of multi-sonic osmium slugs from an automatic impeller would turn an APC into a colander in a heartbeat.


            Daniel disliked using goggles for data display, but he'd been very wise to pick the headgear he had. He grinned at himself. Not that there'd ever been doubt: he'd always go for the tool that'd be best in a fight.


            The APC fired. The dazzling bolt was on the right line but it sizzled out in a bottle-shaped plume a few thousand yards from the muzzle. Even the most incompetent gunner must've known the aircar was miles out of range, so why–


            Two more APCs came around the west end of Mandelfarne Island, three miles from the aircar. They'd stayed low in the strait, but now that they were in sight they lifted to get a clear shot at their quarry against the sea.


            Though the APCs were relatively slow, they'd be between the shore and the aircar before it could cross their line. The bolt's ionized track was fading, but sufficient glow still hung in the air to point the newcomers toward their prey.


            "Between them!" Daniel said. "Stay low and get between them!"


            Fallert swung the car up on its left side in a hard turn, deliberately overcorrecting; for thirty seconds only inertia was keeping them airborne. Instead of locking into a straight new course, he made them fishtail to the right as they settled.


            The APC still over the island fired, hitting the sea a quarter mile from the car. The bolt slaked its energy in iridescent steam. An instant later the APCs on a converging course fired also. Daniel felt the bare skin of his face and hands prickle, but the nearer of the two bolts nonetheless struck well behind the speeding aircar.


            Fallert nudged his steering yoke again, not hard–a serious input would slow the aircar in the kill zone–but enough that the trailing flag of spray pointed momentarily in a direction different from the car's present course. The APCs were dead ahead, high enough that the fan ducts on their undersides were visible from the sea skimming car.


            Daniel aimed over the left side of the vehicle and squeezed off a shot–


            And a shot–


            And a shot–the osmium pellet ricocheting from the target's sidewalls of high maraging steel, a flash at the point of impact and a neon spark wobbling into the high sky–


            And a–


            Daniel's target banked hard to the right, making it more vulnerable. As he swung his weapon to follow the eight swelling ovals of the fan ducts, Fallert twisted to the right again. The carbine's barrel slammed the roof support, jarring the round off wildly into the empty night.


            Hogg's target crashed into the sea sideways. Either the impact or the gunner's reflex triggered the plasma cannon while the muzzle was already underwater. The fireball lifted off the turret as the APC skipped upward like a flung stone.


            "Got the bastard!" Hogg was shouting as he twisted in his seat–good God, he must not be belted in at all!–to point his heavy RCN impeller directly over Fallert's head. "Got him!"


            Fallert steered through the geyser from the first impact while the APC–now a collection of scraps and fragments spraying out like a shotgun charge–hit a third time. A few of the bits continued on to splash in a wide arc. The aircar bucked. Falling water drenched the passengers, but they were through and headed for home at nearly 150 mph.


            Daniel popped his own belt loose to aim over the back of the vehicle. To his surprise he had no target: both surviving APCs had dropped to the sea's surface to cover their vulnerable fan ducts. They hadn't a prayer of tracking, let alone hitting, the aircar, there.


            The rainbow bubble of the Rainha's exhaust was dimming, but there was still enough to color the froth around the wrecked APC like a tapestry of jewels.