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Some Golden Harbor: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 26, 2006 21:49 EDT



Haven City on Pellegrino

    "I don't bloody like the look of this," said Woetjans as a third police vehicle pulled in line with the others, completely blocking the end of the dock at which the Princess Cecile had tied up. "Sure you want to handle it this way, Six?"

    "It's all going to plan, Woetjans," Daniel said. "I'd worry if they weren't waiting for me."

    That was technically true, but he was injecting a little conscious cheeriness into his tone for the sake of the bosun and the nearest of the liberty party. Daniel could admit in the silence of his mind that the riot control vehicles were imposing even though he knew they mounted water cannon rather than plasma weapons,

    Wearing his best 2nd class uniform without medal ribbons, Daniel walked beside Woetjans at the head of the spacers going on liberty. His tailored gray and black garments looked out of place in that company. All members of the Sissie's crew were veterans with many years of service to commemorate in their liberty rigs. Patches embroidered with scenes of exotic landfalls covered what had started out as utilities, and varicolored ribbons, some with legends, dangled from their seams.

    The cops braced as the spacers bore down on them. Daniel had formed his Sissies into a column of twos so that they didn't fill the dock as they approached. The party looked formidable even when it wasn't deliberately threatening, however.

    Daniel'd also ordered the spacers to leave behind the short truncheons and knuckledusters that were normally part of their liberty paraphernalia. That last had caused complaint, but the RCN encourages resource in its personnel. They could use bottles and barstools if the need arose.

    They're spacers on liberty; when the need arises.

    "Good–" Daniel called. Was it morning or afternoon? He'd forgotten to check local time! "Good day, gentlemen! I'm Commander Daniel Leary, RCN. I'm the owner and captain of the yacht Princess Cecile, and this is a liberty party from my crew. They're hoping to spend a month's pay in the entertainment establishments of Haven City."

    "Yee-ha!" called a Sissie. As a breed, spacers were unlikely to be cowed by the presence of police, but Woetjans turned with a scowl to silence the enthusiasm. This wouldn't be a good time for things to get out of hand.

    "Commander Leary?" said a pudgy civilian with receding hair and a brush moustache. "I'm Superintendent Otto. Some matters have come up since your previous visit to Central Haven. I'd like to discuss them with you in the Port Control Office, if you don't mind."

    "Not at all," said Daniel. "To be honest, I rather expected that. Shall we walk–"

    He nodded to the building kitty-corner across the broad street paralleling the harbor. It looked like a three-story pillbox covered with turquoise stucco.

    Mostly covered. Patches had flaked off.

    "–or would you prefer to drive me?"

    "Look, sir," Woetjans said, trying to sound calm. "Why don't the two of you talk things over aboard the Sissie? That's where customs people ought to be, right, aboard the ship they're checking?"

    "Go on about your liberty, Woetjans," Daniel said with a touch of sharpness. The bosun knew as well as he did that Otto had nothing to do with customs. "There's no problem with that, is there, Superintendent?"

    Otto hesitated, then turned to a police officer with rings of silver braid around his billed cap. "Send your men back to their usual duties, Major."

    "Shall I leave one truck–" the policeman began.

    "You shall do what I told you, Major," Otto snapped. "Let the liberty party through and go on about your duties!"

    The Major stiffened. "Right, let'em by!" he said.

    As his men parted and two of the trucks pulled forward to open a passage, he turned to Woetjans. With something like professional unctuousness he added, "We don't mind you boys having a little fun, ah, madam, but keep it in bounds. Get out of line and you'll spend the rest of your leave in the pokey, understood?"

    "Six…?" said the bosun plaintively.

    "We're visitors, Woetjans," Daniel said. "The Pellegrinian authorities have some reasonable concerns. I'm happy to allay them. Go on ahead, but I'm sure I'll be rejoining you shortly."

    The two civilians flanking Otto were tall, broad men, bigger than any of the green-uniformed police. From a distance Otto would be a slightly rumpled joke. His cheeks were soft, his mouth weak, and his eyes as hard and piercing as a pair of ice picks.

    "I'm glad to find you so reasonable, Commander," he said. "We perhaps need not go to my office after all. We will sit in my car."

    "Wherever you please, Superintendent," said Daniel. He started toward the nearest of the riot control vehicles, but Otto gestured instead to an aircar parked just beyond them. It looked nondescript, but when Otto opened the door of the passenger compartment Daniel saw a luxury that hadn't been hinted by the polarized windows.

    Otto closed the door behind them. His aides remained outside, one standing at either end of the vehicle.

    "You described yourself as owner and captain of the Princess Cecile, Commander Leary," Otto said. "When you docked here a week ago, you stated–stated on oath, I might add–that the captain was one Elspeth Vesey. She signed the port records."

    "I hired Vesey," said Daniel. "Quite a clever young lady. I honestly thought she was up to the job, but by the time we reached Bennaria it was obvious that I'd been wrong. I'd brought her along too quickly, I suppose, or…."

    He gave an expressive shrug. "To tell the truth, Superintendent… there's a lot written about a woman being every bit as good as a man and I dare say there's some cases where it's true. Though I gather you folks here around Ganpat's Reach have never bought into that as strongly as they do back on Xenos?"

    "No," said Otto. "We are simple folk. We do not believe bullshit just because somebody who says he's a sophisticate from Cinnabar says it is true."

    "Well, there's a lot to be said for that attitude," Daniel said, nodding firmly. "As one man to another, well–of course a woman isn't fit to captain a starship, not on a voyage like this one! I have no doubt that Vesey'll marry well on Bennaria, have a lot of children, and be a great deal happier than if she'd stayed on Xenos and tried to force herself to be something no woman is."



    If Woetjans had heard the conversation, she'd have ignored it because it wouldn't have made sense to her. The bosun wasn't an intellectual and knew it. There was a lot in the world that she didn't understand, and that wasn't something that bothered her.

    Adele, of course, would've understood that Daniel was telling Otto things that Otto already believed. That made him more likely to believe the other things Daniel would tell him.

    Vesey would take the words as seriously meant for at least a few heartbeats, a betrayal of her trust and a damning indictment of her own competence. All that despite the fact that logic told her Commander Leary couldn't believe what he'd just said, that he was simply explaining to the Pellegrinian security police why the Sissie's former commanding officer was no longer aboard.

    "Perhaps you've found wisdom in your visit to our region," Otto said. Daniel couldn't tell from his tone whether the words were meant as irony. "No doubt that by itself would justify the time and effort of your voyage."

    He spread his fingertips against the burl inlays of the doorpanel beside him. His nails were painted with chevrons of dark blue against an azure background. "You returned from Bennaria to Pellegrino, then?" he asked, his cold eyes on Daniel.

    "Not directly, no," said Daniel. "We went from Bennaria to Dunbar's World. Then from Dunbar's World to here, and back to Cinnabar as quickly as the sails can take us."

    Vesey wasn't aboard because she was marching off toward the bars, brothels, and gambling hells of Center Street with forty-four other Sissies. She wore a liberty suit borrowed from Cui, an engine wiper who'd remained with the anchor watch. There'd be a lot of coming and going of the Princess Cecile's crew members over the next twelve hours. Unless the police were counting very carefully, the fact that thirty of those spacers were still on the ground when the ship lifted ought to go unremarked.

    It wasn't a problem port policemen were used to dealing with. Though quite a lot of their duties involved searching for spacers who'd jumped ship, it was up to the ship's officers to report that there were missing personnel in the first place.

    "Ah!" said Otto, his spread hand suddenly as motionless as a waiting spider. "You admit you were on Dunbar's World, then?"

    "My mission was to aid Bennarian forces in repelling the recent invasion of Dunbar's World, Superintendent," Daniel said calmly. "This isn't a secret–it was debated and agreed in an open meeting of the Cinnabar Senate. And no, I didn't make a point of telling that to you or other officials when we landed at Central Haven on our way in–I'm not a complete idiot."

    He shrugged and added, "But neither am I foolish enough to think you don't know all this by now from your own sources. I assure you that if my mission hadn't been a complete and total failure, I would've bypassed Pellegrino on my return."

    Otto was obviously taken aback. He touched a set of controls on his armrest. A holographic display briefly brightened in front of him, then vanished. From Daniel's angle it'd been only a milky blur.

    "You are forced to land on Pellegrino," Otto said with what was obviously feigned assurance. "Our location controls access to Ganpat's Reach!"

    Daniel smiled. "Superintendent," he said, "I don't think there's a captain in the RCN who couldn't plot a course in and out of the Reach without touching down on Pellegrino. It's a convenience certainly–that's why I'm here. And besides–"

    He let the smile turn rueful.

    "–I figured you deserved a chance to crow at me on my way home with my tail between my legs. Because I was, I'll admit, less than candid with the authorities here when we landed the first time."

    Otto blinked. He set his hand against the doorpanel, then brought up–and killed–the display again. Finally he said, "So, what is it that convinced you to return to Cinnabar, Commander?"

    "Superintendent Otto," Daniel said, leaning slightly forward. "I'm an RCN officer, not a Pellegrinian spy. I have no intention of discussing the details of what I observed in Ganpat's Reach with you. I will tell you that while I don't expect people at Navy House to be pleased with the report I tender to them, neither do I expect the failure of my mission to seriously harm my career. Not on the facts I determined while I was in the Reach."

    Otto chuckled like bubbles percolating through heavy oil. "Well, I'll withdraw my question then, Commander," he said. "To be frank, I doubt there's very much you could tell me about what you did and saw that we on Pellegrino don't already know."

    He tapped the controls to the car's data unit but didn't switch it on.

    "So," he continued. If his chuckle had implied good humor, it was certainly past now. "I will ask another question: what are your present intentions, Commander Leary?"

    "I'm allowing the crew eighteen hours leave," Daniel said. He grinned and added, "I don't think I'm giving away military secrets if I tell you that neither Charlestown nor Ollarville right now are places I was willing to give unrestricted liberty."

    He hadn't started with, "I've already told you," because that further waste of time would serve only to sour his relationship with the Superintendent. At the moment the relationship was merely doubtful. Daniel was under no illusions that his Cinnabar rank and citizenship would protect him from real trouble if he angered Otto sufficiently.

    "We'll top off our reaction mass here and take on local produce," he continued. "The usual business, of course. And then we lift for Cinnabar, which I hope to manage in a single insertion. All the way in the Matrix, that is, without dropping back into sidereal space for star sightings."

    "Is that possible?" said Otto, looking puzzled but no longer hostile. "It is the voyage of a month, is it not? I'm not a spaceman, of course, but I understood if one spent so long in the Matrix without a break, one went mad."

    Daniel shrugged again. "I judge thirteen days," he said. "I've gone longer in the past with this ship and mostly this crew."

    He met Otto's eyes and grinned engagingly. "Not to put too fine a point on it," he said, "I intend to get back to Cinnabar before word of what happened does. I want to be the one who explains why my mission failed. If I come waltzing in after some merchant captain spreads the word–or the Manco agent through a courier, I shouldn't wonder–then they'll be on me with their knives out as I step down the boarding ramp. I won't have a chance to get the facts out."

    "I see," said Otto, sounding as though he did. He let out another chuckle. Then, sober again, he went on, "You have permission to go about your business in Haven City then, Commander; but with a word of warning: if you have occasion to land on Pellegrino again, be sure you are fully forthcoming about your intentions. A failure to do so will be regarded as an insult to Pellegrino and to our benevolent Chancellor. No one, not even a son of the redoubtable Speaker Leary, would be immune to the righteous workings of justice in such a case."

    "I take your point," said Daniel. He'd guessed already that Otto had taken the time to learn his background. He unlatched the door but didn't push it open for a moment. "And you've reminded me to mention something else I need to do while I'm in Central Haven. One of my father's ships is disabled here, the Stoddard. Either I or my aide will check with the captain and see if there's anything they need from us."

    He leaned his shoulder against the car door but paused again and allowed it to swing closed. "I don't know how much your files have on me, Superintendent," he went on, "but I'll tell you that my father and I haven't spoken since I joined the RCN."

    That wasn't quite true, but it was beyond the ability of anybody save the Learys, father and son, to disprove.

    "He's no longer Speaker, but he's a powerful man in the Senate," Daniel said. "And I'm going to need help in the Senate to explain how my mission worked out the way it did in Ganpat's Reach!"

    Otto was laughing again as Daniel got out of the car. The door's solid closing thump put a merciful end to the oily gurgle.



    Master Nordeen's conveyance was a low-slung runabout which'd surprised Adele when his chauffeur first brought it out of the garage behind the merchant's townhouse. The vehicle was nearly silent because it ran on four hub-center motors but they were extremely powerful. The open wheels tilted on the axles, allowing the car to hold the road like molasses running down the side of a bottle.

    Adele turned to her host as the chauffeur pulled up beside the Stoddard in slip West 35. The traffic passing on Harbor Drive was heavy; a large freighter was discharging a cargo of bales onto a line of lowboys, each pulled by a snorting diesel tractor.

    "I didn't expect so sporting a car, Master Nordeen," she said, speaking over the noise of the tractors.

    "Because I am old and feeble, I must ride in something old and feeble, mistress?" the merchant said as he got out on his side. He patted the flank of the car. "This is a whim, I admit; quite unnecessary to my needs. But at my age, there are few things that give me pleasure. I can afford my whims."

    The Stoddard was slightly bow-down, enough so that the boarding ramp touched the quay on one corner instead of along the whole edge. Nordeen walked up step for step with Adele, showing no signs of discomfort. Old certainly, but not feeble….

    Though the freighter's hatch was open, no one was on watch on the ramp or in the entry hold beyond. Adele frowned, wondering if she should've radioed ahead. She hadn't done so because of what was now looking like a misplaced concern over communications security.

    While waiting for Master Nordeen to awake from his afternoon nap, Adele had reviewed the intercepts she'd made already. Chancellor Arruns' secret police did quite a lot of electronic eavesdropping themselves, but their own protective measures were conspicuous by their absence. If they'd shown any interest in the Stoddard, Adele would know it–so they didn't.

    Tovera stepped past Adele and Nordeen, walking on the balls of her feet. Her head moved in quick jerks, searching for movement in her peripheral vision. She was looking for enemies rather than trying to rouse a friend. That was no more than to be expected from Tovera, of course, but it wasn't very helpful….

    "Captain Evans!" Adele said. She walked over to the Up companionway. "Anyone? Will someone come down, please? We're here to see the crew of the Stoddard!"

    "What's that?" someone called from above. "Come up to bridge level, then. We're on the bridge."

    Adele glanced at Nordeen, standing impassively at her side. Putting her head into the companionway again, she shouted, "Get down here, and get down here now! Unless you want to spend the rest of your lives on this miserable excuse for a planet!"

    Adele backed away and turned, drawing in deep breaths in an attempt to calm herself. She took her left hand out of her pocket. It appeared that she was closer to her personal edge than she had any reason to be. The Stoddard's crew didn't know the situation, after all.

    They still needed to do their jobs promptly and without argument. Their jobs now were whatever Mundy of Chatsworth told them to do.

    Adele had time to look around the compartment. Pressed-metal benches were folded against the bulkheads. She twisted the dogs to drop one with a bang. The third dog was stiff; Tovera murmured a warning and slammed it with the heel of her shoe, then backed to face the companionway down which the sound of boots echoed.

    Nordeen settled onto the bench with a grateful nod. Starships didn't use elevators because the stresses of entering and leaving the Matrix warped the shafts and caused the cages to stick. Ordinarily that was of no great matter as even the largest ships were rarely more than ten decks high, with the entryways at midpoint or close to it. Master Nordeen wasn't an ordinary visitor to a starship, however.

    "All right, what is this?" boomed the first man out of the companionway, a burly fellow in his fifties. His flaring beard was pepper-and-salt, but the hair on his scalp was thick and as black as a crow's wing. Two men and a woman followed. One of the men was bare-chested, scarred, and carried a short pry-bar.

    "I'm Signals Officer Mundy of the RCN," Adele said crisply. She cocked an eyebrow at the bearded man. "I assume you're Captain Evans?"

    The Stoddard's officers brought themselves up short. Adele wore a civilian suit whose deep green cloth showed chartreuse undertones at certain angles. The tunic and trousers weren't flashy, but they were well-made and expensive, obviously so even to the eyes of spacers who'd never shopped on the Golden Plaza in Xenos.

    "Aye," muttered the man she'd directed the question to. His bluster of a moment before had vanished. The bare-chested fellow lowered the pry-bar to beside his leg, then concealed it behind him. "What do you want here?"

    "Which of you are Cinnabar citizens?" Adele demanded, only answering the question indirectly. The bosun's name was Hartopp according to the crew manifest. She hadn't found pictures of the personnel, but it seemed evident that Hartopp was the bare-chested man and that the slim youth in a blue jacket was Stonewell, the mate.

    "I am and Stoney is," Evans said cautiously. "Hartopp, are you?"

    "My brother is," said the bosun, looking at his toes. "We're from Caprice."

    Caprice was a Cinnabar protectorate, but the only citizens on the planet were immigrant bureaucrats and locals who'd done one or another kind of favor for those bureaucrats. Adele didn't care about citizenship in itself; the question was an indirect way of seeing whether any of the officers had been born on an Alliance planet, as they might very well have been.

    "I'm Kostroman but I've been with the Stoddard the past three years," said the woman–the purser, Linde. From her diction, she was better educated than the others. Quite well educated, in fact. "Why are you asking, please?"

    "I'll get to that shortly," Adele said. She knew that Daniel'd do this differently; he'd probably have them cheering by this point. Nevertheless Adele was better off being herself than she'd be trying to ape Daniel's style. "Is there anybody aboard the ship besides yourselves? Anybody at all?"

    The officers looked at one another again. "No," said Evans. "I paid off the crew when I saw how long repairs were going to take. I'll hire a new crew when we're ready to lift."

    "Look, you can't just walk aboard and ask questions," said Hartopp. "What're you doing here?"

    "You know theConsular Agent, Master Nordeen, I believe," Adele said, cocking her head toward the merchant without taking her eyes off the spacers. "I asked him to accompany me so you'd know that the orders I'm going to give you have the full weight of the Republic behind them."

    "Me'n Boobs talked to Nordeen right after we landed," Evans growled. If Purser Linde had a problem with being called Boobs, she concealed it behind a mask of wary silence. "He did bugger-all for us, I don't mind telling you."

    "I provided my good offices in putting you in touch with repair facilities," Nordeen said calmly, his eyes focused on the infinite distance. "Under normal circumstances it is not the place of the Republic of Cinnabar nor of Bright Dragon Trading Company to pledge its credit to effect repairs on a privately owned vessel."



    "Which brings me to the purpose of my visit," said Adele. "Master Nordeen has arranged for eight antimatter converters to arrive by barge alongside the Stoddard this evening. A number of trained spacers will also arrive. They will begin the task of replacing your faulty units. They'll be staying on board the ship while they work."

    "We need the motors too," Stonewell said quickly. "The converters were the problem, right, but we didn't catch them in time before they'd ate up the motors."

    "New motors will be brought as soon as the work on the converters is complete," Nordeen said, still staring into nothingness with a beatific expression.

    "Well, this is great," said Evans in surprise. "I'd like it happened a couple months ago, but I'll take it, sure. Ah–how's this being paid for? Because Nordeen, you said–"

    "Master Nordeen is pledging his personal credit–"

    "The credit of Bright Dragon Trading Company," Nordeen corrected mildly.

    "The credit of his company, that is," continued Adele, angry with herself for the error, "to expedite the work. He in turn is protected by a guaranty by the Republic of Cinnabar, though that won't appear in any documents on Pellegrino. Ultimately Hinshaw Transit, the Stoddard's owners of record, will pay the costs. We're merely expediting the process."

    The ship's officers looked at one another. The men seemed puzzled, but Linde's expression had become perfectly blank. She didn't know precisely what was coming next, but she'd clearly guessed that if the Republic was putting up such a considerable sum of money, the Republic expected value for its investment. If she'd known that the guaranty wasn't from RCN funds but rather from a secret account controlled by Mistress Sand, she'd have been even more concerned.

    "From this moment until the workmen leave the Stoddard," Adele said, "the four of you must remain on board also. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but it's necessary to prevent any discussion of what's going on until the operation is over."

    "Just who the bloody hell are you to be telling us we can't leave the ship?" said Hartopp with his voice getting louder with each word. "Now look! I don't care if you're RCN or one of God's angels, you don't give me orders here. This is Pellegrino! You're off your patch, girlie!"

    "Can I give you orders?" asked Tovera, standing behind and to the side of the four officers. She'd set the attaché case down and was openly holding the sub-machine gun she kept in it. She giggled. "I'm not RCN. I'm not an angel either."

    "Bloody hell," Stonewell said quietly. He stared at the gun as though it'd hypnotized him.

    "I hope not," said Adele, "but it could certainly become a bloody hell if you attempt to violate my instructions. If you do as you're told, you'll be able to lift within ten days according to the estimate I was given by Commander Leary. Is the situation clear?"

    "If you shoot us, it's piracy," Linde said. She'd been looking at Tovera's gun, but now she raised her eyes to meet Adele's. "It doesn't matter that you're RCN or that the honorary consul–"

    She used the Kostroman term for the office both Cinnabar and the Alliance called a consular agent.

    "–agrees with you. It'd be murder and piracy."

    "Yes," said Adele, "you're quite right. More to the point, it'd bother me a good deal–"

    She lifted the pistol in her pocket just enough to give them a glimpse of it. The barrel shroud had a faint rainbow pattern from one of the times she'd used it in rain heavy enough to quench the hot steel.

    "–to shoot one or all of you. But I've killed people just as innocent as you are in the past, and I'm ready to do it again."

    "It won't bother me, though," said Tovera, grinning. "In fact, I like shooting people."

    That was quite true. Adele knew that Tovera was speaking for effect to help her mistress convince these strangers that cooperation was their only survivable option, but it was still bothersome to hear the quiet gusto in her voice.

    Three Power Room techs in liberty rigs walked up the boarding ramp. "Ma'am?" called the leader, Tech 3 Samson. His companions were wipers. "Is this too soon to board?"

    I'll need to get working outfits for the whole crew, Adele thought. She'd mention it to Nordeen before he left.

    "This is fine," she said, raising her voice so that the Sissies could hear her. She returned her gaze to the Stoddard's officers.

    "These are the first of your workmen," she said. "There'll be thirty all told. My servant–"

    She nodded to Tovera.

    "–and I will be staying aboard also."

    "The barge with the converters will arrive within the hour," said Nordeen placidly. His eyes were still directed–inward? Into the infinite? Elsewhere, at any rate. He was clearly following events, however.

    "Master Hartopp, please show these men to their accommodations," Adele said. "And Mistress Linde, I need to discuss the workmen's rations with you."

    She looked out of the hatch; another party of Sissies, riggers this time, was heading down the street. Several of them held bottles, but they weren't drunk as a spacer understood the term.

    Adele looked at the Stoddard's officers again; she found herself grinning slightly. "One further thing," she said. "The owner of the company you work for, Hinshaw Transit, is Corder Leary. The success of our mission here may well determine whether his son, Commander Daniel Leary, survives the next two weeks. Now–"

    She paused, considering the way to phrase this. "You may think you can escape me and Tovera there," she said. "But I assure you, you will not survive if you cross Speaker Leary. And I'm as much an expert on that as anyone still alive!"

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