SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 74:



            Adele trotted up the companionway past open hatches on three levels. The stacks in the old section of the Academic Collections on Bryce had grated floors and wrought-iron spiral staircases with brass finials. Adele wondered how many times she'd gone up and down those stairs in the years when she was a student of, then assistant curator to, Mistress Boilleau. Those were probably the happiest days of her life before she joined the RCN–and they were very good training for getting from one deck to another on a starship.


            She reached the top of the companionway on A Level, traditionally not only the bridge but also the accommodations deck on a civilian vessel. A warship's larger crew usually required that the enlisted personnel be berthed lower down, but of course a warship's interior wasn't given over to cargo holds.


            All the hatches along the A Level corridor were open. The sound of snoring came from one of the accommodation blocks toward the stern. Lights were on in the bridge forward; Adele already knew that the main console was live.


            She paused, not indecisive but waiting for Barnes and Dasi to come out of the companionway. They were followed almost without pause by half a dozen Sissies who must've run from the barge as soon as they got the signal. Sun was at their head, holding a sub-machine gun at high port with the air of a man who knew how to use his tools.


            Adele pointed to the accommodation block, then turned and with Tovera at her side walked silently onto the bridge. The man at the main console was slumped so that she couldn't see his head, but his worn boots were splayed out to either side. There were two flat-plate terminals–not all-purpose consoles–on the right side of the compartment, but their integral seats were empty.


            Adele stepped toward the console, then leaned forward quickly and switched off the power. She brushed the man dozing on the couch. He woke up, muttering, "Whazzat?"


            "Officer Luntz," said Adele, clearly but without shouting. "Wake up, please."


            Luntz was very young. He had pale blond hair and he shouldn't have tried to grow a moustache; it simply made his upper lip look furry.


            "What?" he said, straightening. He was fully awake, though he didn't seem particularly alert. "Say, who are you?"


            "I'm Mundy from the Chancellor's Planning Office," Adele said calmly, giving the deliberately deceptive title of Arruns' secret police. "You and the entire crew are under arrest until we've gotten to the bottom of the smuggling. Zastrow–"


            There must be a dozen Sissies in the accommodation block so Zastrow–a Power Room tech as broad as he was tall–had tramped into the bridge compartment instead. He wore a slung sub-machine gun, but the prybar in his right fist and knuckleduster over his left made clear the kind of fight he preferred.


            "–tie him up now."


            "I don't know anything about smuggling!" Luntz said. He got up but staggered against the console as his knees threatened to give way. His face was white. "Oh my God, look, I'll tell you everything, you don't have to torture me!"


            Tovera giggled. She waggled the muzzle of her weapon toward Luntz as though it were a black finger.


            Zastrow'd stuck his bar under his waistband. He grabbed Luntz' wrists with his left hand; the knuckleduster didn't seem to get in his way. He efficiently trussed the weeping Pellegrinian officer with cargo tape from the dispenser on his belt.


            "We have four of them, sir!" said Vesey from the hatchway. "One was passed out drunk in the head."


            "Officer Luntz, how many crewmen are aboard?" Adele said. "Luntz, answer me!"


            "Six," Luntz gurgled through his sobs. "Look, Duval runs the smuggling, I don't get anything out of it. Hardly anything!"


            "Put him with the rest of them in the room they sleep in," Adele said. She frowned at her sloppy terminology and said, "The accommodation block. Keep them tied at least for now."


            She turned the console back on as two Sissies hustled the Pellegrinian out by the elbows. The crew would probably have to remain tied, taped that was, for the entire voyage. They couldn't be left on Pellegrino where they might be able to give the alarm soon enough for a courier ship to get to Dunbar's World before the Rainha and her escort, and there weren't enough Sissies in the assault party to provide more than an exiguous guard on the prisoners.


            "Ma'am, I've sent the dock party out," Vesey said from the hatchway. "Barnes and Dasi are in the entrance compartment."


            "Very good," said Adele without looking up from the console display. "I'll leave that to you, Lieutenant."


            The console had an infuriating delay, presumably some software problem. She finally found the external optical pickups and focused them on the quay outside. The party of six under Sun sauntered toward Harbor Drive carrying the packing case which held their weapons.


            Barnes and Dasi would deal with the crewmen as they returned to the ship, barring the lower end of the companionway while a large armed party waited at C Level, the next deck above the entrance hatch. Their story, that they'd just signed on to the crew, was flimsy, but it should be adequate for drunks who were doing well to stagger aboard. Sun's party was ready to deal with anybody who made it out of the ship and ran for the street.


            "Sun, this is Mundy," Adele said. She used the Rainha's FM intercom but passed the signal through an RCN scrambler to Sun's tiny plug earphone. "The man coming toward you is Wilkes, the chief engineer."


            Sun didn't have a sending unit with which to reply, but he made a hand signal behind his back. The display was too blurry and distorted for Adele to see more than the fact of the signal–but that was enough.


            She let out her breath slowly. So far, so good. Perhaps in eight or nine hours, they'd be off this wretched planet–and on their way to Dunbar's World, which was even more wretched and where she would kill an uncertain number of people.


            Adele smiled wryly. Family obligations often require a degree of personal discomfort.