SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 73:



            The terminal in the Rainha's entry hold was being used to display a pornographic video involving a human female and three aliens of different species. Adele frowned for a moment, wondering if there was a way she could identify the aliens more quickly than calling up an anthropological database–which her little unit didn't have–and sorting by eye. Though of course it didn't matter, except to her desire to properly catalogue everything with which she came in contact.


            What did matter was that the crewmen on entry watch weren't any more concerned than their fellows on the two previous nights had been. The Rainha had filled its manifest and would be lifting at mid-morning, but the crew had a final night of liberty.


            The anchor watch was six spacers under the second mate. The remaining twenty-one officers and crew were supposed to return at dawn but would, Vesey assured her with all the listening Sissies nodding agreement, dribble in over the course of the morning. That timing wasn't necessary for the success of Adele's plans, but it'd be helpful.


            "Sir, we're nearing the Rainha," Vesey whispered. Her lips were close to Adele's ear so she could hear over the chugging of the diesel.


            Adele looked up, shut off her display–she'd been checking the freighter's main computer for readiness estimates on the thrusters and High Drive–and put the little unit away. She hadn't been really concerned about the Rainha being able to lift as planned and she wasn't the person to determine that anyway, but it'd been something to do instead of stare at steel bulkheads and at spacers who were quivering with anticipation.


            Standing, Adele said, "Barnes and Dasi with me, and nobody else. Lieutenant Vesey, see to it!" She climbed the ladder gracelessly but without difficulty and stood on the gunwale-level walkway with Tovera and the two riggers. The barge nosed toward the slip at which the Rainha was anchored.


            They clanged against the concrete quay and glanced away. Adele swayed against the railing, but Dasi was holding her firmly by the shoulder. The diesel grunted unhappily as the helmsman did something to his controls.


            "Get a bloody fender out, you clot-brains!" Casuaris shouted, springing forward and hurling out a bundle of coiled rope between the quay and the ship's side. They'd recoiled three feet and were swinging farther away.


            "Ma'am, we're gonna pass you ashore!" Dasi said in an urgent voice. He seized Adele around the waist as Barnes vaulted the railing. They'd left their impellers in the hold as ordered, but each had a length of pipe under his belt.


            Dasi tossed Adele over the railing to Barnes, who lowered her to the dock. She hadn't heard the riggers discuss this plan; perhaps they'd just instinctively come to the same conclusions by dint of long experience of working together. Tovera jumped also, holding the attaché case close to her body; she landed lightly.


            "Come along," Adele muttered as she strode toward the Rainha's entry ramp, her boots clicking against the concrete. Behind them the barge was rumbling toward the dock again, but that had ceased to be her concern.


            She was in civilian clothes, a suit of dark blue fabric. Thin diagonals of powder blue kept the garment from looking like a uniform in sunlight, but Adele had chosen it for the ambiguity it had at night. Tovera looked like a clerk as usual, and the riggers were in the dull, loose garments of working spacers anywhere. Utilities were formal wear for on-duty RCN personnel.


            Both the crewmen on watch stepped to the top of the entry ramp to see what the noise was about. Adele continued to walk briskly toward them without waving or calling.


            "We're not supposed to get cargo tonight," one of the watchmen called. "You've got the wrong ship, I guess!"


            Adele reached the end of the ramp and started up it. "I'm from the Chancellor's office," she said. "We're here for Officer Luntz."


            Luntz was the watch officer tonight. He was a Pellegrino native, like the captain and first mate. The crewmen, according to the ship's records, were mostly from various places in Ganpat's Reach. There were three Pellegrinians and three more spacers born on Alliance worlds.


            "I'll get–" said the watchman who'd spoken before. He turned into the compartment.


            "Don't warn him," snapped Adele, "or you'll be guilty of treason yourself!"


            "What?" said the watchman. He held his hands out to his sides in horror. "Look, I'm no traitor. Bloody hell, what'd Luntz do, anyway?"


            "I really think you'd be wiser to avoid that question," Adele said tartly as she stepped between the spacers and walked toward the flat terminal on an internal bulkhead.


            The woman and her three companions continued to caper on the display. Perhaps they were all computer simulations?


            Adele locked the terminal and turned to watchmen. Both were staring at her with worried expressions. "Unless you're already involved, of course," she said. "Are you?"


            "No!" said the nearer watchman. He had a ruddy face and was sweating profusely. "We–"


            Barnes and Dasi swung their short clubs together. They were using lengths of the high-density plastic tubing intended for the hydraulic system that worked the Sissie's rig. The hollow whop-p! of the impacts echoed in the compartment.


            The silent watchman crumpled in place as though he'd been shot. The speaker pitched forward–mouth open, arms windmilling, and blood spraying from the cut in his scalp. There was a bald patch on the peak of his skull. Adele stepped aside; the man hit first the bulkhead, then the deck.


            Her nose wrinkled. She'd started to say, "Did you have to hit them so hard?" but swallowed the words. Yes, they did have to hit the watchmen that hard. There was a near certainty of concussion, a real chance of permanent brain damage, and the possibility of death from blows like that–


            But if the watchmen hadn't been put down certainly from the first, Tovera or Adele herself would've shot them dead. There couldn't be any chance of them getting away or giving an alarm.


            Barnes was strapping the watchmen's arms behind their backs with cargo tape while Dasi stood in the hatchway and signaled Vesey with his left hand. One man was snoring loudly; the other lay as slack as a half-filled bladder, his mouth and eyes open. His scalp wound should be bandaged, but perhaps the Sissies coming from the barge could take care of that when they arrived.


            "To the bridge," Adele snapped as she stepped into the up companionway. "And Tovera, put that thing out of sight!"


            Tovera had taken her little sub-machine gun from its case. If they'd been intending to assault the Rainha, killing everyone they met, that would be appropriate. It wasn't what Adele had in mind, however–as her servant well knew.


            Tovera appeared bland on all but the closest contact, but she really did have a personality; she possibly even had a sense of humor. What she lacked was a conscience.