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Some Golden Harbor: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, June 21, 2006 22:00 EDT



Ollarville on Dunbar's World

    Troops in gray-green battledress were marching off the Greybudd via two of the ship's three ramps. Most of them carried sub-machine guns, but there seemed to be one stocked impeller per ten-man squad.

    The ramp closest to the bow had stuck halfway down. Spacers from the Greybudd were looking at it from the quay and the hatchway, but there wasn't the sort of bustle that Daniel liked to see in a crew when something goes wrong. He frowned.

    The troops were forming a perimeter, closing off the quay and politely–reasonably politely–but firmly moving out the handful of idlers and dockworkers who were there at the moment. As Daniel and his escort approached, one of the soldiers began talking urgently into a hand-held radio. Another man stepped out of the line with his arm raised in bar.

    "Sorry, gentlemen," the second soldier said. "This area's closed to everybody but the Bennarian Volunteers unless you've got a pass from–"

    "Let'em through, Rajtar!" said the man who'd been on the radio. He shoved forward and put his hand on the second man's–Rajtar's, presumably–shoulder for attention. "The Councilor's on his way down right now to see them. It's the RCN mission, you see?"

    Rajtar looked surprised and uncertain. "Ah, right, sir. Sorry, thought you were more of this lot."

    He waved a hand at Ollarville generally. The port was being forced to handle cargoes well beyond its normal capacity. Much of the overage was piled in vacant lots or stretches of street frontage. Existing businesses were supplemented by shanties, and the buildings themselves were being raised by additional stories made of bamboo and wicker.

    "Glad to have the RCN on our side. Bloody glad."

    "Sorry," Adele murmured to Daniel as they led his entourage through the cordon. "Corius' staff didn't get the word to the troops in time. If I'd been back at my console, I could've routed the orders through myself."

    Daniel smiled broadly and waved toward Yuli Corius, trotting down the stern ramp behind his reptilian bodyguard. Three men in uniform, aides rather than guards from the look of them, followed. He said quietly, "I prefer you here."

    That was certainly true, though he wasn't sure he could give a reason that'd mean anything to other people. Adele was a friend, certainly; but Hogg and Woetjans were friends as well in their different ways.

    Learning was all very well and Daniel valued it, but he had more interests in common with Hogg or even the common spacers than he did with Adele Mundy. If Daniel'd thought knowledge for its own sake was important, he'd have lived a very different life. Time spent poring over books that didn't advance a particular interest of his–natural history, for example, or anything to do with the duties of his profession–was no better than so much time spent in jail.

    It wasn't even Adele's intelligence or at least not only her intelligence. Perhaps it was the way Adele applied her intelligence as dispassionately as a scalpel; no matter how she felt or what she felt. She'd provide a clear, cogent analysis of a question even if she knew the result would be her own death.

    He could trust her. He could trust her judgment in any and every situation, and you could hardly ask for a better definition of who you wanted at your side in a chancy negotiation.

    "Commander, I was on my way to see you," Corius said. He wore a field gray uniform like those of his Volunteers, but without any indications of rank. Corius didn't carry a weapon, though, an oversight that'd mark him as a worthwhile target to any hunter as practiced as Hogg… or as Daniel himself, come to think. Though hunters that skilled weren't thick on the ground either.

    "This is Colonel Quinn, my field commander," Corius went on, gesturing to the short, extremely fit, sixty-year-old at his side. "We're going to the military routing office here in Ollarville and I want you to accompany me. With Lady Mundy, of course."

    Quinn responded with a Cinnabar salute, touching his right index finger to his brow with his stiff hand and forearm in perfect line. "Sir!" he barked. "A pleasure to meet you!"

    Daniel returned the salute, but not nearly as sharply. Quinn was obviously Cinnabar–but not a Cinnabar officer, not with that demeanor and accent. Very likely he'd been a non-com in the Land Forces before retiring into what was supposed to be a cushy billet in the sticks.

    It must not've worked out the way Quinn had expected, though, since the man's nose and ears were oddly pinker than the rest of his tanned features. They were synthetic, not real skin. At some point in the recent past Quinn had been mutilated, and reconstructive surgery hadn't been able to put the damage quite right.

    "And to meet you, Colonel," Daniel said. Part of him–the RCN officer and the Cinnabar gentleman both–was irritated at Corius' phrasing: I want you to accompany me. On the other hand, he wanted to see the nearest central government officials also, and it'd be foolish to cavil about some wog's unfortunate terminology.

    Daniel grinned brightly. "Yes, I'm planning to talk to the locals myself. We'd be pleased to have you and the Colonel join us.

    After all, he could horsewhip the fellow on the ramp of his ship some other time, if that seemed like a good idea. The humor of the thought made Daniel smile–and the thought of the Councilor's face if he knew what caused the smile made him chuckle audibly.

    "Quite," said Corius, but a puzzled look flashed across his face. "The Federal Building's three blocks down the waterfront."

    He nodded; toward a four-story building clad in tan brick, Daniel thought, but that was just because it was prominent. Though he'd learned over the years that the chance of a government building being strikingly ugly were very good, and this one qualified. The brick had a violet undertone that made Daniel queasy when he concentrated on it.

    "I've got an aircar aboard the Greybudd," Corius continued, "but rather than wait for it to be unloaded, I propose that we walk. With a suitable escort, of course."

    "I haven't seen anything in Ollarville that a couple crossing guards couldn't handle," Hogg said, picking his nose. "What do you guess, Woetjans?"

    Woetjans spat again. The gobbet wobbled ten feet as straight as a chalk line, then plopped into the slip.

    The lizardman, Fallert, made a noise in his throat like a loose gear train. That was apparently laughter.

    Corius looked even more disconcerted. He cleared his throat and said, "Let's go, then. Colonel Quinn, detail a squad to accompany us."

    Tovera said something to Hogg in a low voice. Daniel couldn't be sure, but he thought it was something like "ten crossing guards." Whatever the precise wording, it put Hogg and Fallert in boisterous good humor as they sauntered through the cordon.

    Spacers aren't trained to march in unison, and Corius' Volunteers were individually recruited mercenaries who hadn't spent a lot of time on drill and ceremony either. It struck Daniel that the body of them looked more like a well-armed street gang than they did professional soldiers.

    That seemed to be quite in keeping with the conditions prevailing in Ollarville. He grinned and began to whistle The Patapsco Shanty cheerfully.



    Adele intensely disliked using her visor and its simple cursor controls in place of a proper display linked to her wands, but while she was walking down Water Street she didn't have a better option. She was uncomfortably aware that Barnes and Dasi kept step, poised to catch her if she stumbled. It was embarrassing, but falling on her face would be still more embarrassing. That was a real possibility, given the state of the pavement and the fact she was seeing through a 70% mask of projected data.

    The half-dozen guards at the entrance to the Federal Building were in laborers' clothes, loose dark trousers and striped shirts, but they all wore the red-and-white EPL rosette somewhere on their garments. They bent their heads close and buzzed to one another as the combined Bennarian and RCN contingent approached; one man scurried inside. None of them had been in the delegation which had visited the Princess Cecile earlier in the afternoon.

    "Colonel Quinn?" said Corius in a carrying voice. "If those ruffians open their mouths, I want you to have them soundly thrashed."

    "Very good, sir," said Quinn, sounding like he meant it.

    Hogg turned to Fallert and said conversationally, "Say, I could come to like your master."

    The lizardman laughed again. "He won't let me eat the hearts of those I kill for him, though," he said. His pronunciation of Standard was excellent, though he didn't or couldn't give labial consonants their proper emphasis. "I don't know why. It's only cannibalism when it occurs within a single species."

    "S'pose he means it?" Barnes said in a husky whisper, ostensibly to his partner but of necessity speaking across Adele.

    She didn't reply. She simply didn't know the answer, and she wasn't good at making empty conversation.

    The EPL contingent backed out of the doorway; two even walked quickly away as if late for a distant appointment. A man whose crossbelts supported two pistols remained to glower at the foreigners, his hands on his hips.

    Woetjans grinned and butt-stroked him in the pit of the stomach, knocking him out into the street. He thrashed, curling up in a ball and retching uncontrollably. There was general laughter from Sissies and the Volunteers alike.

    The entrance hall was empty except for a desk littered with wine bottles and papers. The desktop was marble; somebody'd carved his initials on it with a knife and one corner'd been broken off. A door down the back hallway banged behind whoever'd been in the hall before the foreigners arrived.

    "The Federal governor has the suite of offices to the right," Adele said, gesturing with her right index finger. "His name's Zorhachy, and a personal assistant named Moorer has remained on duty also. The rest of the Federal staff have either resigned or left Ollarville for points west."

    "How does she know that?" said Quinn in surprise. He was looking at his employer when he started the question but had moved his eyes onto Daniel by the time he finished it.

    Neither man answered him, but Dasi tapped the side of his nose and said, "That'd be telling, little feller. But if Mistress Mundy says it, you can take it to the bank."

    Councilor Corius knocked firmly on the door Adele had indicated. "Governor Zorhachy, I'd like to speak with you," he said. His tone didn't make it a question.

    "You can't come in!" called a voice from inside. There'd originally been a frosted glass panel in the top half of the door, but it'd been replaced with a sheet of plywood nailed from the inside. The points of several nails stuck out through the panel.

    "Sir, this is Councilor Yuli Corius!" Corius said. "It's necessary that I speak with you."

    He rattled the door, then shoved. It was bolted shut. "Please!" Corius said. "I don't want to break it down!"

    "I'll get it," Woetjans said, measuring the distance and turning slightly so that a perfect half-turn would bring the heel of her boot squarely onto the latch plate. "Just move aside!"

    "Don't shoot!" called a different voice from inside. "My God, Governor, I'll not be shot just because you want to be a hero!"

    A crossbolt slid back; a plump man in frock coat and vest jerked the door open. Behind was a younger man in similar garb and a much older one wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a string tie. Behind the desk at the back was the man Adele recognized from file images as Governor Zorhachy; the blond youth beside him must be Moorer. A pistol lay on the desktop; both men were studiously not looking at it.

    "Look, we're shippers, Beltras and Conning and me," said the man who'd opened the door. He was probably ruddy at most times, but now he was pale except for hectic patches on both cheeks. "We've nothing to do with politics, nothing! We just came to talk with the Governor, that's all. Let us go and you can do what you please with him!"

    "For pity's sake!" said Corius. "What are you afraid of? I'm Councilor Corius of Bennaria, come here to aid you against the Pellegrinian invasion. I just want to arrange supplies and billeting for my men until they can be transferred to the seat of the war."

    "The only way you'll get supplies here is from the EPL," said the man who'd opened the door. "And they won't be getting any more either because they pay with their own scrip. As isn't worth wiping your ass with!"

    All Adele knew about the speaker was that he was a shipper and his name probably wasn't Beltras or Conning. She stepped into the office; there was an occasional table by the door. She put the file boxes stacked there on the floor and sat on the table, bringing out her personal data unit. It was a relief to have proper apparatus instead of directing a cursor with tongue motions.



    Barnes and Dasi followed, forcing the merchants back by their presence; then the whole mixed entourage flowed into the room. Moorer surreptitiously scooped up the pistol and dropped it into a desk drawer.

    "We've been trying to get the Governor to act," said Beltras, the man in the string tie. His tone started out resigned but quickly rose into anger. "Will he? No, not him!"

    "The EPL commandeers our property and the Governor says, ''Too bad,' that's all!" said Conning. "Some governor. Some government!"

    "Well, what do you expect me to do?" Zorhachy demanded. "Do I have an army? There's me and Moorer, that's all, and I don't know why he stays!"

    "I won't leave you, sir!" Moorer said.

    Perhaps brave but completely ineffectual, Adele thought. And young. Though in years, as old as Daniel.

    She had her information–from the Federal data banks–in the form of a petition for redress by shippers named Worthouse, Beltras and Conning. It stated that their cargoes of agricultural produce had been taken without pay by members of the Eastern Provinces League claiming to be the government. The shippers demanded that the Federal authorities either recover their property or pay them compensation at market value.

    Good luck, Adele thought. And the shippers probably felt the same way, but they were following up their petition sent to the Federal capital, moved from Port Dunbar to the inland city of Sinclos, with a visit to Governor Zorhachy himself.

    "All I have is my office, this room!" said Zorhachy, rising to his feet. He was a tubby little man with a pencil moustache and a receding hairline. Withal, he managed to project a certain dignity. "I thought when the good Councilor appeared that it was Rasmussen and his animals come to take that too. Perhaps they would shoot me as they have shot so many."

    He waved his arm. "Master Worthouse," he said. "If the sacrifice of my life will return your property, I will give it now! Only show me how this can help you?"

    "You sir," said Corius, pointing to Worthouse. "Can you supply rations for two thousand men for a period of a week or so? Till I decide on my next step."

    Worthouse shrugged. "The three of us can," he said. "We can bring in that much food over the next week or month or year. If we're paid–"

    "You'll be paid," snapped Corius.

    "And if the EPL doesn't hijack it, the way they did what we had in our warehouses," Worthouse concluded. "It was ready to be sent on to Port Dunbar like we were contracted to do."

    "How many armed men does the EPL have, anyway?" Daniel asked. Adele noticed that although he didn't seem to raise his voice, his words rang clearly through a room which was by now full of people.

    "A thousand," Moorer said. "Perhaps a few more, but they aren't well armed. If the Ministry of the Interior in Sinclos would just listen to us and send a battalion, we could return law and order to Ollarville. Instead they badger us to ship supplies we can't gather because of the EPL!"

    "I think between me and the Councilor, we can open normal supply routes, Governor," Daniel said. He grinned. "I'd venture that my Sissies can do the job by ourselves, but in that case I'd have to use the ship's cannon. I'm afraid your city wouldn't be the better for it."

    "That won't be necessary," Corius said. "Quinn, meet with these gentlemen–"

    He nodded to the shippers.

    "–and get a plan in place. I want to start receiving local supplies by tomorrow morning at the latest, to conserve our present stocks."

    "It'll be a pleasure, sir," Quinn said. "It'll be good to blood the boys before we take them to Port Dunbar, besides. You lot–"

    In a peremptory tone, his eyes flicking from Worthouse to Beltras and Conning.

    "We'll find a room right now and sort this. Boys, let us by. Blaisdel, I'll need you for the commo back to the Greybudd."

    "I'll leave you to handle matters," Corius said to the room at large. He nodded to the Governor, then turned to the door.

    "Commander Leary?" he added as quietly as the bustle allowed. "Lady Mundy? Might I have a word with you in the hall?"

    Adele put away her data unit. Dasi and Barnes made room for her to step down into the milling crowd by bracing their arms and pushing forward. Corius and Fallert left the office. Hogg followed closely while Daniel waited for Adele. Tovera brought up the rear with a tight grin.

    "What I'm planning to do," said Corius in the entranceway in a cocoon of his men and the Sissies, "is to fly my aircar to Port Dunbar, just me and Colonel Quinn. I have people I can trust to do the ash and trash jobs here while we're gone, but it's clear that I'll need to see the military situation for myself to be able to make a useful decision."

    Daniel nodded. "I'm inclined to agree," he said. "The Sissie doesn't have an aircar, but if I can buy or rent one here…?"

    "No, of course that's not necessary," Corius said. "I would be very pleased for you and Lady Mundy to accompany me. Shall we say, we leave at dawn tomorrow?"

    "Adele?" Daniel said with a cocked eyebrow.

    The Princess Cecile contained useful tools that she wouldn't be able to carry in an aircar, but she didn't expect to need particularly exotic equipment to break local security systems. And the Sissie couldn't approach the battle site directly without risking attack by the Pellegrinian missiles.

    "Yes, of course," Adele said. "There's nothing in Ollarville that I'm going to regret leaving behind."

    Everyone who heard her chuckled–but it was the simple truth, as were most of the things she said. She wondered if some day she'd figure out why her telling the truth struck people as funny.

    Perhaps it was just that they heard it so rarely.

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