SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 65:
Adele was sitting at the checker's desk when the two attendants raised the overhead door. Noises from the night outside became louder and sharper: occasional shots, a klaxon in the far distance, and the growing murmur of the returning aircar.
The desk terminal was intended only for inventory control, but it was cabled to the database that the communications suite on the roof fed. Adele hadn't found it difficult to link her personal data unit to the terminal and through it to control the entire system. The display in the commo center was far better and so, she supposed, was the security; but neither of those things was as significant as being on hand when Daniel and Hogg returned.
The aircar paused on the loading dock, then turned slowly–counterclockwise–to back into the warehouse. Adele frowned. She hadn't thought about positioning the vehicle to leave quickly; Fallert had. It was his job, of course, but that was the sort of information which might be important to her present duties.
Echoes deepened the whine of the car's motors as it crawled inside. Adele couldn't make out the features of the persons aboard without pulling down her goggles, but there were five of them. That was all that really mattered, that they'd all come back. Against the lighter background of the night sky she saw that the left side of the windshield was crazed and milky.
"They hit something," said Tovera quietly. "Not bullet holes, a collision."
Had she been worried also? Probably not; the statement was analytical, though the fact Tovera made it aloud showed that she was at least trying to act the way a normal human who was worried would act.
The door rattled and rumbled down, stopping with a jangle against the lintel. Fallert had already shut off the motors, but the fans roiled the air still further as they spun down. Adele sneezed, then sneezed again. The downdraft had driven a strong vegetable sharpness–ginger root?–out of the wooden flooring.
"Turn a bloody light on!" Colonel Quinn shouted. "Now, dammit! All I bloody need tonight is to break my bloody neck besides!"
A panel on the right door pillar flickered into greenish life. "Make do, buddy," growled an attendant. "If we turn on the overheads, the pigs'll see it through the skylight. We don't draw rockets here, not even for the Lord God Incarnate!"
After nearly complete darkness, the luminescence was more than sufficient. Adele left her data unit on the desk and walked to meet Daniel as he got out of the back of the car. His uniform was wet–dripping wet, in fact–but he flashed her a brilliant smile.
"I'm glad to see you're safe," Adele said. Part of her mind observed that another person would've added flourishes, but the words she'd used were sufficient.
"You ought to be bloody glad!" Quinn said angrily. "Do you know how close we came to being killed? If that Hogg hadn't been luckier than anybody alive, we'd be cinders out there right now!"
I do indeed know how close it was, Adele thought. I watched you. I watched the whole thing.
Turning from Adele to Hogg, Quinn added, "I don't know why you're working for a living, bub. If you're that bloody lucky, you ought to just play roulette!"
Hogg ignored him. He'd walked over to a stack of crates which were unmarked except by stenciled numbers. He pried up the lid of the top one with his big folding knife.
"Master Hogg is indeed lucky," Fallert said with a little more than his usual emphasis of the sibilants. "I would guess that Master Hogg is often lucky with a long gun, not so?"
Hogg pulled a liter bottle from the honeycombed interior of the crate. He cut the foil seal and worked the stopper out.
"It's been known to happen," he said. His tone was mild enough, but his eyes had a look of hard speculation as they rested on Quinn. "But luck, sure. You know that as well as I do, Fallert. Just hitting the bastard was doing good, what with that wind and you throwing us around like granny jogging without a bra."
"You and the Commander each hit twice," the snakeman said. "That is very good. I could not have done as well."
He bowed to Tovera. "I did not doubt you, mistress-s-s," he said. "But what I saw tonight was very remarkable."
"Here you go, young master," Hogg said, handing the bottle to Daniel.
Daniel drank and returned the bottle to Hogg. "I'm afraid I can only claim one," he said, turning the carbine over in his hands to look at the underside of the receiver. "And other than perhaps startling the crew, that didn't do any harm."
"You hit twice and Master Hogg hit twice," Fallert said. "One of our enemies fled and the other was destroyed. This was very good. This was worthy of great honor."
"Did you kill the driver, then, Hogg?" Corius said. "I thought the car just went out of control and crashed. And at a very good time, I must say."
"I put a round through a fan duct," Hogg said. "It's what I wanted, but I don't pretend I could do it more'n maybe one time in five."
Daniel raised an eyebrow.
"Well, one time in three, then," Hogg admitted. "And then it bounced the right way and put paid to the motor."
Hogg drank again and held the bottle out to Fallert. Fallert shook his head, but his whole long jaw was smiling. "I thank you, Master Hogg," he said. "But ethanol would kill me."
The snakeman laughed.
Hogg shrugged and looked at Corius. "I couldn't shoot through the driver's cage on one a' those, Councilor," he said. "Not at two hundred meters, which is as close as we got, you'll recall. The armor's too thick."
"Those APCs weren't heavily loaded," Quinn said. "Even if you did shoot out a fan, it could still have flown. The driver just lost control."
He sounded frustrated, a man desperate to find an answer to a question that was completely beyond him. It didn't make Adele like Quinn any better, but viewing him as a mongrel dog invited to give a lecture permitted her to interact with him without getting angry.
"Yes, Colonel, he did lose control," Daniel said. Adele could hear the edge beneath his cheerful lilt, but Quinn probably didn't. "He panicked because his fan had been shot out–it hadn't just failed. He poured maximum power to the remaining units before adjusting his angles of thrust. That overbalanced the vehicle, and by then he had no chance to recover."
He patted Quinn on the shoulder. Much as he'd pat a dog, Adele realized, and wondered whether Daniel had formed the same mental image she had of the man.
"Let's all take that as a lesson not to panic," Daniel said with a smile. "In case the enemy has somebody as good as Hogg is, right?"
"As lucky, you mean, young master," Hogg said, lowering the bottle. Half its contents were gone. He'd been frightened too, though frightened wasn't quite the right word. He'd been very well aware of how close they'd come to being killed, him and the boy it was his duty to protect.
"Here you go, Tovera," Hogg said, offering her the bottle. He was making a point of not including Quinn in his forced camaraderie. "Finish it if you like. There's plenty more where this one came from."
"I'm working," Tovera said. Her smile was as wide as her thin mouth permitted and looked–at least looked–real.