SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 72:
Central Haven on Pellegrino
The diesel engine was rumbling, but the barge that'd brought the new High Drive motors was still tied up to the Stoddard's outrigger. Though it wasn't time to set off, Vesey and the majority of the assault party were already concealed by the tarpaulin over the top of the barge's forward hold.
Tovera, Dasi and Barnes stood with Adele as she talked for the last time with Captain Evans, at the head of the short boarding bridge between barge and starship. The other officers remained aboard the ship, avoiding the knowledge of what was going on. Adele didn't mind the riggers' presence–she had nothing to say to the Stoddard's officers that the Sissies shouldn't hear–but the stocked impellers they insisted on holding might very well attract attention even at this hour of the night.
"Master Nordeen is seeing to it that more workmen will arrive in the morning, Captain," she said. "While I don't expect them to be of quality equal to those who're leaving tonight, they will at least be shipyard workers by profession. They should have you ready to lift within a matter of days."
"If I'd known what you were doing, I'd have told you not only no but hell! no," said Evans in a miserable voice. "Bloody hell, woman, Chancellor Arruns doesn't fool around with treason. I'm for the high jump and so are all us other poor bastards!"
Dasi rapped him over the ear with his impeller's muzzle. It wasn't a heavy blow, but it was more than a tap for attention.
"She's Officer Mundy to you, boyo!" the rigger said. "Or you can call her sir, your choice."
"I didn't ask for your permission," Adele said calmly. "I told you your duty. If you keep your mouth shut, however, there won't be any repercussions before you've taken the Stoddard off Pellegrino."
She hadn't wanted or needed Dasi, her self-proclaimed escort, to deliver that etiquette lesson, but it'd more than a little pleased the part of her that was still Mundy of Chatsworth. Her father had been leader of the Popular Party and the people's friend, but he'd never forgotten he was Mundy of Chatsworth either.
The big freighter on the opposite side of the slip was being loaded under lights. A sharp whack! followed by a ringing whang and the crunch of a heavy weight hitting the ground sounded from it. The ship's masts were telescoped but not completely folded; in silhouette against the floodlights they looked like spikes of hoarfrost, enormously magnified.
"A cable parted," Barnes said with a chuckle. "We seed that happen often enough, right, Dasi?"
"They'll be lucky if somebody didn't get killed," his partner agreed. "Cut right in half. Remember Trent Johns?"
They laughed together.
"Look, I see the guns," Evans said, his whisper harsh. His head was bent away from Dasi and his left hand touched his scalp. "If you think you can use them on Pellegrino and the cops look the other way, you're bloody wrong!"
"You don't know what we're doing," Adele said, her voice so cold that the captain wilted away from it, for the moment forgetting Dasi's mere physical threat. "If you're not too stupid to live, you'll avoid speculating on the question. You'll tell anyone who asks that the work on your ship was carried out by Pellegrinian shipwrights and that you were glad to get off planet. Do you understand?"
"It's easy for you to say there won't be trouble," the captain said, "but–"
"Should I kill him, mistress?" Tovera said. "We can be sure he won't do anything foolish if he's dead."
"No," said Adele. "Well, only as a last resort. It'd cause more problems than it'd solve."
She looked at Evans again. The quiet discussion had frightened him in a fashion that Dasi's blow had not… which meant he was beginning to understand.
"You will not tell anyone that you ever saw us," Adele said. "You will finish the work on your ship and lift. Do you have further questions?"
"No ma'am," Evans mumbled to the toes of his boots. "Whatever you say. We didn't see anything, not a bloody thing."
"Mistress?" Vesey said over the intercom. She and Dorst had always called Adele "Mistress" or "Sir" even though midshipmen had general command authority and a signals officer did not.
"Yes, time to go," Adele said aloud. "Good night, Captain Evans. I suggest you forget us."
"You can be bloody sure I'll try," the civilian muttered as Adele climbed from the boarding bridge down into the barge.
"Cast off," ordered Casuaris, who'd been a fisherman before he became a spacer; a civilian at the bow and a Sissie at the stern freed hawsers from ringbolts on the outrigger. Master Nordeen had provided two crewmen with the barge, but they were simply carrying out RCN orders on this trip.
Casuaris had told Adele that he'd sold his catch for a good price in Xenos and awakened in the morning with a bad hangover as the destroyer he'd been carried aboard lifted. His experience with small boats came in handy now; and though he grumbled about the way he'd been pressed into service, he'd spent the past fifteen years in the RCN despite his many opportunities, formal and otherwise, to get out.
The civilian helmsman eased his throttle forward as he engaged the single prop. The diesel lugged for a moment, then built back to a burbling grumble as the barge backed into the pool.
Adele prepared to squat as she pulled out her personal data unit. "Here you go, ma'am," Sun said, guiding her against the bulkhead where to her surprise a seat–a metal tray with a cushion of coiled rope–stuck out from the sheer metal.
"I bolted it there for you, ma'am," the gunner said proudly. "We didn't want you sitting in the bilges again, you know."
"Thank you, Sun," Adele said as she sat as directed. They were really very good to her; they cared. They were her family.