SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 76:



            Daniel wasn't really concerned about the time it took to load in Ollarville. The real worry was how quickly the troops would disembark under hostile fire. There was no way to practice that.


            "Not bad!" Quinn said with the artificial verve he'd shown before. "And a first drill! Now we'll see if the 3d and 4th battalions can better their time."


            The troops had finally vanished into the ship, though Daniel was sure they'd still be packing the entry hold for another several minutes. Nonetheless, quickly enough.


            "Well, I'm glad to hear you say you're still in favor of the plan, Commander," Corius said, patronizingly expansive again. "Because I don't mind telling you that I'd hate to cancel the operation and come up with another method of defeating Arruns. That wouldn't be an easy job, I'm afraid."


            "I don't think you need worry about that, Councilor," Daniel said diplomatically. "So long as we continue to work on execution, we'll be fine when the time comes to do the job for real."


            Colonel Quinn was talking to his battalion commander again. Daniel heard a tone of qualified approval in his voice, which the event scarcely justified.


            We can't cancel the operation, Councilor, Daniel thought grimly, because we can't get word to Adele and her detachment. I'm going to be taking a ship into the Pellegrinian base one way or another, even if it's the Princess Cecile with a skeleton crew.


Central Haven on Pellegrino


            "Striker to Football," crackled the voice of the signals officer of the Duilio, already in orbit. "Report your status, over."


            "Striker, this is Football," Adele said. She'd listened repeatedly to the exchanges the Rainha's signals officer, Clerk 7 Lena Hilbert of the Alliance Fleet, had with ground control on Mandelfarne Island, Central Haven, and with the cruiser. "Captain Cootzee says we're ready to lift. Over."


            They'd been lucky that though none of the societies in and around Ganpat's Reach allowed women in their governments, militaries, or the crews of their ships, the signals units servicing the invasion of Dunbar's World were provided by the Alliance. Hilbert was fat and unkempt, but she was female and thereby made Adele's life easier. Adele was distorting her voice electronically, but making the transmissions completely sexless would raise questions.


            "Hilbert, is that you?" said the Duilio's officer–Clerk 7 Wang. "What the hell's wrong with you, over?":


            Vesey was going over her checklist, exchanging comments with Boise in the Power Room. She had Adele's conversation running as a text feed at the bottom of her display, but she knew that if there were anything she as captain needed to know, Adele would bring it to her attention.


            "Look, Wang," Adele said, the exasperation in her voice real. "I've already got a hangover. I don't need a ration of shit from you too. Cootzee says, 'Are we cleared to lift?' over."


            Adele's lip curled, but she knew what Hilbert would say and how she'd say it. If the woman had been a person of greater intelligence and breeding, she wouldn't have been a low-ranking clerk in a hardship posting… but it still distressed Adele to ape her manners. Lack of manners.


            She smiled sadly. Most things distressed her if she let herself dwell on them. That was a good reason, if she'd needed one, to focus her intention on information and avoid considering the realities beyond the information. She'd ably mimicked Clerk 7 Hilbert's tone; that was all that mattered.


            "Football, this is Striker Command," said a different, heavier voice from the cruiser. It wasn't Captain ap Glynn but rather his executive officer, Commander Diehl. "You may lift off, over."


            "Roger," Adele said. "Captain Cootzee, Striker has cleared us to lift off. Over."


            She pointed her finger at Sun, sitting tensely at the second bridge terminal. His voice naturally sounded quite a lot like that of the Rainha's captain, and Vesey'd written him a script. Sun, who'd enthusiastically led armed assaults in the past, was white-faced with fear of acting; even very modest acting, as this was.


            Adele shut off her terminal's audio. "Sun," she said, "don't fail Commander Leary!"


            "Roger," Sun squeaked. "Out."


            Vesey lit all twelve thrusters together, following Captain Cootzee's practice as shown in the ship's electronic log. Adele smiled again. It wasn't the way Daniel or anybody Daniel had trained did things. This was probably as hard for Vesey as Hilbert's vulgarity was for Mundy of Chatsworth.


            "Signals, this is Command," Vesey said over a two-way link. "Is the intercom, ah, secure, over?"


            Adele checked her terminal before she spoke. "Captain," she said, "no one will know what happens or is said aboard this ship unless I determine that they should. Over."


            "Ship, this is Command," Vesey resumed over the general push. "We've carried out the first portion of our mission. Now comes the hard part: managing to look as sloppy on the way to Dunbar's World as the wogs we're pretending to be. We're all Sissies so I know it'll be a strain, but remember that it's worth it. If we pull this off, we'll get a chance to show ten thousand monkeys from the back of beyond what RCN spacers are like. Are you with me?"


            By heaven! thought Adele as the crew cheered. By heaven, Vesey's voice wobbles a little but she's as much like Daniel as anyone could be! Out of sheer effort, she's mimicking what Daniel does by instinct.


            "Ship, prepare to lift," said Vesey as the enthusiasm faded to a happy expectancy. She slid her joined throttles forward; the ship began to shudder upward in a pillar of steam and fire.


            Adele's hand fell unconsciously to the butt of her pistol. She'd have very little to do over the five-day voyage to Dunbar's World. When they reached orbit, she'd have to exchange communications with ground control and Wang aboard the Duilio, but Vesey could handle that by herself now that Adele'd cleared the Alliance encryption gear.


            The real work would come when the Rainha landed and her hatches opened. At that point the Sissies' task would be to kill people; and with the possible exception of Tovera, nobody aboard was as skilled at that as Adele Mundy.