SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 77:



CHAPTER 21: Mandelfarne Island on Dunbar's World


            The landing jounced Adele so hard against her terminal's simple lap belt that it broke her concentration on the message traffic swirling around the Pellegrinian base. She turned her head with a frown. Vesey was sitting rigidly at her console, hands poised over the controls.


            Of course. Vesey had to follow Captain Cootzee's standard operating procedure, so she was letting the Rainha's computer land them instead of easing the ship in manually the way Daniel'd taught her to do. With an ordinary water landing it didn't make a great deal of difference, but the reflected thrust made a ship coming in over land quiver like a ball on a vibrating table. A skilled pilot could land much more smoothly by matching thruster output to the terrain.


            Of course an unskilled pilot could drop his ship sideways or even flip it onto its back. Cootzee preferred discomfort to a chance of disaster, and Vesey perforce had to use the techniques of the man she'd supplanted.


            Was the capture of the Rainha piracy or an act of war? Probably piracy, because we weren't in uniform… and for that matter, Pellegrino isn't at war with Cinnabar. Though that might change if Chancellor Arruns loses his temper as badly as he may when he learns whats happened on Dunbar's World.


            The Rainha touched hard, her stern slightly below her bow; Adele's torso swung to the right. The bow dipped and the stern rose with a second paired Clang-g! from the outriggers. Adele swung left, wondering if this was the way the ship always landed. Probably, probably; but how did they stand it?


            Vesey–slight, pale, self-effacing Lieutenant Vesey–shouted, "Fuck this fucking piece of shit!"


            The thrusters shut off while the Rainha was in the air. The ship fell–only a few inches, but three thousand tons hits bone-jarringly hard even in a short distance–with a ringing crash. Adele had enough experience with machinery to understand what'd happened: Vesey, conditioned to the razor sharp controls of the Princess Cecile, had switched off the thrusters when the Rainha was down. The lag in the freighter's mushy circuits and feed pipes meant the vessel'd lifted again before the command took effect.


            As the freighter hissed and pinged, cooling till it'd be safe to open the hatches, Adele unbuckled her lap belt. The strap appeared to have left bruises over her hip bones.


            That didn't matter. As well as the little weapon in her tunic pocket, Adele was carrying a service pistol. She secured its holster flap in the open position, leaving the butt clear to be gripped. She found the big weapon heavy and awkward, but the tiny pellets from the pocket pistol weren't effective beyond fifty yards. She was likely to need greater range tonight.


            Most of the crew was already in the entry hold, but Wheelus and Heska were poised at the dorsal airlock with stocked impellers. Under normal circumstances that hatch was used only by riggers coming and going from the hull. At present the two spacers were waiting to be told to take firing positions on the upper hull.


            Sun rose from his console, looking in silent expectancy from Vesey to Adele. He slanted his sub-machine gun across his chest; he'd removed the sling. Adele got up also, feeling–


            Not feeling much of anything, she supposed. She wondered with detachment whether she'd be killed in the next few minutes.


            Tovera carried a full-sized sub-machine gun but wore the miniature weapon from her attaché case in a belt holster. She'd strapped a pack in front of her where she could reach the contents easily.


            Tovera was smiling. Adele didn't know what that meant. It irritated her to think that despite her skill as an information specialist, she couldn't answer questions about those so close to her.


            "Fellow Sissies!" Vesey said, using the public address system. Her voice buzzed out of the tinny speakers in each compartment. "You all have your instructions. The most important one is that you don't shoot, none of us shoot, until Officer Mundy orders or the wogs start shooting at us. We're going to go out there as quiet as mice. With luck we'll take the missile battery without a shot being fired."


            Adele had to force herself not to fidget. Intellectually she knew that it would cause questions if they lowered the ramps too early. Plasma exhaust baked the ground as hot as fired porcelain. Even experienced spacers couldn't leave the ship for several minutes after landing unless they were wearing rigging suits.


            Adele knew that, but she was keyed up and desperate to get on with what she knew was coming. It was half-possible that they'd capture the battery without shooting, but even if they did the night wouldn't be over.


            "Remember, Sissies," Vesey went on. "No one on Cinnabar may know where we are or care, but Mister Leary's counting on us. Let's not fail him. Out!"


            Vesey'd been rising as she finished her speech. She took the sub-machine gun hanging from the back of the console and turned toward the hatch. Sun, cued by the movement, started for the companionway. Tovera nodded the lieutenant ahead of her and Adele; Vesey hesitated an instant–but only an instant–and obeyed.


            As the group from the bridge passed, Wheelus and Heska climbed into the airlock and cycled it shut. The inner and outer hatches were interlocked so they couldn't both be open at once.


            Adele kept her right hand over the companionway railing as she followed, knowing how easily she could lose her footing on the wear-polished steel treads. She wasn't afraid of dying, but if she lived to be a hundred she'd never learn to shrug off embarrassment.


             She grinned coldly. It didn't seem likely that she'd live to a hundred. Well, it'd never been a priority.


            The Rainha's entry compartment was smaller than the Princess Cecile's, in keeping with the freighter's civilian crewing standard. Twelve spacers would've been comfortable in it; thirty carrying weapons and bandoliers of reloads were squeezed together like canned fish.


            "Ten of you up the up companionway now!" Sun bellowed. The force included two bosun's mates, Schmidt and Quinsett, but they hadn't taken charge in this situation. Sun, the armorer and gunner's mate, was in his element