SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 80:



            The operations and maintenance staff for the missile battery was quartered in six bunkers on the inner face of the berm to the right of the gateway. They were accommodation trailers which'd been sunk waist deep, covered with spoil from the battery pit, and sand-bagged across the portion of the front that was still above ground. So long as those within were lying flat, they had sufficient protection even if the missiles were launched.


            Now soldiers inside were kneeling to shoot out from the doorways. The nearest was twenty yards from Adele, the farthest some thirty-five.


            "Mistress!" Tovera shouted.


            Adele fired twice at the pale oval of the nearest face; it vanished. She shifted left, fired twice; shifted left–


            Metal splashed from the gate and spattered her; a spark burned through her tunic just above her navel. The backs of her wrists were oozing blood from the burns she'd gotten in the control trailer.


            She fired twice and shifted left.


            Two faces appeared in the nearest doorway, replacing the first gunman Adele had killed. She ignored them–one thing at a time and she had very little time left–and fired twice at her fourth target, a Pellegrinian using a rifle whose chemical propellant made great red flashes and spat bits of jacket metal at every shot. The soldier slipped backward, leaving his weapon on the step of the bunker.


            Tovera was at Adele's left side, raking the nearest bunker with two neat bursts instead of a single long one. Adele had no doubt that when the bodies were examined, those men would have patterns of three holes each in the middle of the forehead.


            The last Pellegrinian vanished down into his bunker, leaving only an ionized haze to show where he'd been punching pointless holes in the air and gate. Tovera called, "Cover me!" and slipped like a wraith through the gap by which the gate was ajar.


            The barrel shroud of Adele's pistol glowed yellow-white, blurring the sight picture. That was only a theoretical problem, though; she didn't think she'd missed a shot tonight.


            Her head felt cold. Her scalp was sweating and she'd lost her commo helmet. Had she taken it off? She didn't remember that.


            Just as Tovera reached the end bunker, the man inside raised his head. The sub-machine gun clacked like an angry woodpecker, flinging him back where he'd hidden.


            Tovera had stuck a blue strobe into the berm, a signal to draw the rest of the assault force, but there wasn't time to wait for them. Adele eased through the gate. She'd memorized the battery's layout, but the terrain was rippling in her mind as though it'd been drawn in colored smoke. She moved deliberately down the curving ramp into the pit, aware that if she lost her balance she wouldn't be able to get up.


            The missiles were mounted in trios on either side of an armored cab. They were forty-six feet long and fat in proportion. The battery was still in its horizontal travel position, and Adele didn't see a light on in the cab.


            She reached the bottom of the ramp and took another step. The change made her dizzy; she closed her eyes briefly, then opened them and walked toward the steps. Her pistol had cooled to a red glow that was barely visible, but she still couldn't put it back in her pocket; besides, she might need it.


            Adele reached the steps; they were already folded out. If she'd had to unlatch them and pull them down… well, she'd have managed somehow. She started up to the cab, unable to grip the railings. She couldn't feel her left arm at all, while her right throbbed as though she were gripping a burning coal instead of the butt of her pistol.


            There was more shooting above her; it could've been either inside or outside the berm. It didn't really matter. She heard the snarling discharge of a plasma cannon and saw the sky brighten momentarily in her peripheral vision. If the Pellegrinians ever figured out what was happening, they could crush the assault in a matter of minutes with their APCs.


            Adele pulled the cab door open and flopped across the bench seat inside. She'd memorized the layout of the controls, but she'd expected to have the use of her left hand. Now she had to reach across her body and switch on the interior lights with the muzzle of the pistol.


            She laid her pistol on the seat beside her and brought live the control module in the center of the dashboard, then methodically locked each of the functions out with a separate eight-digit password. When she was done, she aimed the pistol at the module and fired three times. The casing was armored, but her pellets shattered the projection lenses for the display.


            Adele rested her forehead on the dashboard, but the cab stank of burned insulation, ionized aluminum, and her own sweat and blood. She lurched upright, slid to the cab door, and managed to step out onto the pressed-metal landing.


            Tovera was waiting there. She caught Adele around the waist and walked backwards down the six steps to the ground.


            "I'm all right," Adele whispered. "I can stand."


            The second part was true. Maybe the first was also; she was better than the many people she'd shot at tonight, anyway. She hadn't missed, not once.


            Tovera released her carefully but watched her for a moment. Adele smiled. "I can stand," she repeated in a stronger voice.


            A burst from an automatic impeller stitched the sky over the pit, the hypervelocity projectiles glowing with the heat of their passage. They'd splash into the sea miles away, harmlessly unless some fish picked the wrong moment to surface for a gulp of air. Adele giggled with the humor of the thought.


            Tovera bent and picked up something from the ground with her free hand. It was Adele's commo helmet. A bullet had struck the peak, cracking the shell nearly into two pieces.


            "I brought this to show you, Mistress," Tovera said. "The next time you decide to shoot it out with five of them, they may not miss you."


            "I didn't expect them to miss me tonight," Adele said softly. "I thought…."


            I thought it would be over. I can't stop killing other people till I'm killed myself. I will not stop.


            Another plasma cannon fired. To Adele's surprise, people were cheering from the edge of the pit. She heard Vesey among them. They had to be the rest of the assault force, but why were they cheering?


            The sky to the southeast brightened from the glaring exhaust of a starship three hundred feet in the air, thundering across the strait toward Mandelfarne Island. Daniel was bringing in the Greybudd.


            Adele thought of the face of the man she'd shot inside the control trailer, his gaunt features swelling as her pellet ruptured his skull from the inside. And it isn't over yet.