SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 66:



            "Mistress-s-s?" Fallert said. "Do you mean that if you became drunk, you would not be able to kill?"


            "Not that," said Tovera, still smiling. "I might forget to stop, though."


            She laughed, and Fallert laughed, and Hogg laughed so hard that some of his big mouthful of wine squirted out his nostrils. Corius looked a little queasy. Adele wasn't sure he understood all the by-play, but there was enough going on even at a surface level to disturb anybody who wasn't used to it. And he'd been in the car also when the APCs bore down on it shooting….


            "Look, I don't see that there's any more to do tonight," he said. "I propose to get some sleep and discuss the details in the morning."


            "Adele, I have a few questions," Daniel said. "Can we go over them now, or–"


            "Of course," Adele said, striding back to the desk and her data unit. If she was going to work, she'd have the wands in her hands. The wands or a pistol, and not the pistol tonight.


            Corius had been heading toward the line of locked storerooms which the addition of cots had turned into sleeping quarters for him and those who'd accompanied him. He paused and without comment joined Daniel.


            The desk was meant to be used standing, which didn't matter to Adele one way or another. Hogg slid over a crate and sat, but the others decided to stand also. The two attendants watched from beside the door. Adele wondered if she should order them to leave. For the moment she didn't see any reason to.


            Tovera walked over the pair and spoke briefly. They left the warehouse through the pedestrian door.


            "We've been told there're ship-killing missiles at the base," Daniel said. "Are there, and are they operational?"


            Adele had been gathering electronic data simultaneously through the antennas on warehouse roof and from the pickups on Daniel's goggles. As she sorted them, she heard Quinn say plaintively, "How's she going to tell that? You'd have to be right there with the missiles, wouldn't you?"


            No, of course you wouldn't. You could determine whether the targeting radar–and lidar, Adele learned on checking her database on Metex Group AS9 missiles–were active, whether the signals were being relayed to the missile battery, and whether the missile control panel registered the six missiles as being ready to launch.


            "Yes," Adele said. "The missiles are here and are live."


            She threw up a display of Mandelfarne Island, then shrank the scale to focus on the missile battery in a pit two hundred yards from the chalked cross on which the resupply vessel landed. This inventory-control terminal didn't have projection lenses, so she had to use those of her little data unit. They weren't really adequate at the present scale, but her audience would have to make do.


            Daniel sucked his lower lip for a moment and nodded. "Well, I was willing to hope they were bluffing," he said. "I had visions of bringing the Sissie down and ending the war with her ventral turret while we hovered."


            "But Arruns has plasma cannon even if he didn't have missiles, doesn't he?" said Corius. "We know he does–on the armored vehicles at least. They shot at us."


            "There's twelve guns around the perimeter of the island," said Daniel, turning his head slightly. "But they're two-inch weapons, Councilor. Serious enough against boats and aircraft, but no danger to a starship. A ship's plating's thick enough to take half a dozen bolts on the same point–plasma doesn't have much penetration, you see. The missile battery's the problem."


            There were only ten guns in working order, but Adele didn't correct Daniel on a point that didn't change the basic reality. And of course the most basic reality was that missile battery.


            "They don't engage the Rainha, though," Daniel said, turning back toward Adele and resuming with his next topic for discussion. "Adele, can you forge her electronic signatures?"


            "It doesn't matter if she can," Corius protested. "They'll see the difference between your corvette and a transport even if Lady Mundy mimics the Rainha's transmissions perfectly."


            He didn't raise his voice unreasonably, but his whole manner emphasized that he was an intelligent, powerful man who was proud of his ability to grasp situations better than those around him. In that and in other ways, Corius reminded Adele of her own father.


            "Yes, we'll have to use one of your ships, I'm afraid," Daniel said. "I'd bring it in normally and then your assault troops would rush the positions. The ship-owners wouldn't approve if you told them ahead of time, but I doubt there'd be damage that my Sissies couldn't patch in whatever shipyard Port Dunbar offers."


            "Commander," Adele said, "I can't do that. The landing procedures involve Base Control making coded exchanges with both the Rainha and the cruiser in orbit. The encryption is single-pass, truly random, and I can't enter the nodes where they're stored. Arruns has an Alliance communications unit with personnel on both ships. They won't be fooled, not by me at least."


            "Then not by God Himself, eh, Councilor?" Daniel said with a rueful smile. "We need a starship to assault the base, and the Pellegrinians themselves have the only ship that can do it."


            "So we capture their ship," said Hogg. "The Rainha. We've done that before, young master–captured a ship, I mean."


            "Yes, but not a ship with a cruiser for escort," said Daniel. "Except…."


            His smile grew wider. Adele saw the expression and smiled as well. "Yes, of course," she said. "The Rainha won't be under escort while she's being loaded in Central Haven."


            She shifted her display, replacing Mandelfarne with an image of the transport built up from data recorded when it and the Princess Cecile crossed above Pellegrino. A moment ago Adele had thought it was a middle-sized vessel of no particular interest; now she highlighted the hatches through which the ship could be entered.


            "I'll have to go myself, you realize," she said.


            "Umm, no, I don't think that's a good idea," Daniel said. "I'll send–"


            "Commander," said Adele sharply. "There's no one else available who can use the Rainha's identification transponder to respond correctly to the ground interrogations. You can't, Tovera can't. And that's why we're planning to capture the ship, you'll recall."


            "Ah," said Daniel. "Yes, I do recall that."


            He turned to Corius. Hogg was standing again. "Councilor," Daniel said, "I need to get back to Ollarville–to the Princess Cecile, that is–as soon as your car's accumulators can be recharged. Do you agree with this course?"


            "I agree," said Corius, "but it'll take eight hours to get a full charge. And we'll need a full charge–it ran completely flat flying here in the other direction."


            "The forklifts in this warehouse use the same accumulators," Hogg said. "Only one apiece instead of three; they're a standard size. There's four forklifts and they're charged, which I checked before we went out tonight."


            "Come along, Hogg," said Daniel cheerfully. "Let's swap accumulators. It's a good thing Woodson has had a chance to sleep, because he's going to driving straight through to Ollarville. And then–"


            He and Hogg were trotting toward the bank of forklifts against the sidewall, their boots scuffling against the timber flooring.


            "–it'll be my turn to make the fastest run from Dunbar's World to Pellegrino that anybody's ever dreamed of!"