SOME GOLDEN HARBOR — snippet 41

SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 41: "I had Hogg buy the boat for us," said Tovera at the tiller of the taxi. She wore a waterman's garments: baggy shorts, baggy shirt, and a vest with bright red embroidery. Her hat was a flat cone woven from split reeds and shaded her face completely. "He's better at that sort of thing than I am." She tittered. "I suppose he bought the boat," she added. "Perhaps he cut the owner's throat instead. Though I could've handled that myself." "I'm sure Hogg wouldn't kill anyone unless he thought they really needed it, Tovera," Adele said with a deadpan expression. "Unless we were shorter of money than I believe to be the case at present, of course." Elemere wore one of Tovera's pale-gray suits; his blond hair was cropped short under Tovera's usual cap. He looked from Adele to her servant and back again with a horrified expression. His mouth trembled, but he didn't speak. "It was a joke," Adele said. "Don't be upset." Tovera had made a joke, the sort of thing normal human beings did. Adele felt it was her duty to encourage her sociopathic servant every time she attempted to act human. She didn't suppose Tovera would ever be good at it, but the effort deserved support. It wasn't something Adele was very good at herself, after all, but she too kept trying. Being part of the RCN family helped a great deal. Spacers who daily risked death in exotic and horrible fashions were an eccentric lot. They had room for other eccentrics who were good at their jobs. Adele and Tovera qualified on that score. The taxi was driven by a power unit clamped to the starboard side; the massive battery pack to port balanced the motor's weight. The vessel purred and slapped down the strait toward the Mazeppa; very slowly, but that was probably a good thing. Krychek didn't know they were coming–Adele hadn't radioed ahead for fear of interception–and the last thing she wanted to do was to race toward the armed freighter. Krychek's crew must be as frustrated and depressed as their captain. There was no point in goading somebody who's got a gun with which to let out his anger. "No one could possibly mistake me for that woman," Elemere said pettishly, glaring at Tovera on the seat ahead of them. "It's a waste of time to bother!" "If they're looking for you, that's true," Adele said. The complaint–the stupid complaint–irritated her, but she understood how nervous the singer must be. Elemere was reacting to fear in an unhelpful fashion, but that's what people generally did. "We're doing this during the popular assembly because it's unlikely that you're at the top of anybody's mind at present, especially Councilor Waddell's." The guard manning the impeller on the Mazeppa's boarding ramp watched them, but he hadn't actually trained his big weapon on the puttering taxi. Adele waved. She was wearing the suit in which she'd visited the night before, but she knew it wasn't very distinctive. She thought of standing up to make her approach even more obvious and therefore peaceful, but she'd probably tip the boat over if she tried. That would make them look less threatening, but she trusted it wouldn't be necessary. "Most likely those we need be concerned about," she continued, in part to keep the singer from flying into hysterics, "are either watching Corius or getting ready to defend themselves if the mob goes on a rampage. There may be observers keeping an eye on the harbor, but they'll be worried about another transport full of troops landing." "I should never've come to Bennaria," Elemere muttered, looking at his hands clenched in his lap. Adele didn't see any reason to disagree with him. Three more crewmen walked onto the ramp to watch the taxi approach. All three wore horizontally striped shirts and loose, grubby trousers, but the peaked hat of the man in the middle marked him as an officer. "Good day, sir!" Adele called as Tovera curved them toward the hanging ladder where they'd landed the night before. Lubricating oil slicked the water iridescently and hung as a miasma in the thick air. "Please tell Landholder Krychek that Lady Mundy wishes an audience with him." "The Man's coming down, your ladyship," said the officer. "C'mon aboard. He says you're a friend, and we've bloody few friends on this mudball." Tovera in the guise of the boatman lashed the taxi's painter to a recessed eyebolt on the outrigger instead of simply gripping it while the passengers disembarked. The Infantan spacers didn't comment. "Go up," Adele muttered to Elemere. Then, peevishly, "Take your case with you!" Elemere climbed the swinging ladder gracefully despite the burden in his left hand. The attaché case resembled Tovera's, but of course it wasn't. The contents of hers–the little sub-machine gun and similar pieces of equipment–were concealed under her baggy clothing. Adele followed Elemere, but much more awkwardly; he was a dancer as well as singer. As she stepped onto the outrigger with deliberate care, Krychek strode from the hatchway and boomed, "Lady Mundy! A pleasure indeed to see you, an unexpected–" He stopped, staring at Elemere. He raised an eyebrow. "Go on into the ship, Tovera!" Adele said, then prodded Elemere with an elbow to start him moving. He'd forgotten the name he was using this afternoon; he obviously wasn't a natural conspirator. "Let's go into your library, Landholder," Adele said, following close behind the singer to shield him from lenses that might be watching from across the strait. She didn't think anyone on Harbor Island could see them here. "I want to discuss the situation on Bennaria further." "But of course, dear lady," said Krychek. To the officer nearby he added in a clipped, harsher, tone, "Keep an eye out. It's possible that these mud-wallowing pigs will think to interrupt us." "To the left," Adele said in an undertone when she and Elemere were well into the entrance compartment. "The companionway." They entered the helical stairs with Tovera immediately behind them. Krychek banged closed the hatch below, then said, "And now, my dear Mundy–what is all this? I recognize Master Elemere. While he's very welcome, I don't understand him arriving in quite the present costume." "When we're in the library, if you will," Adele said over the echoing shoof, shoof, of their soles on the metal stairs. "Where we can talk more easily." She stepped ahead of the hesitant Elemere and led the rest of the way to the freighter's uppermost level. Tovera's feet didn't seem to make a sound, which was remarkable but not surprising. A hatch facing the strait and Charlestown beyond was open in the foyer; another automatic impeller was mounted there. It hadn't been manned when the taxi approached, but two Infantans were unlocking the mount and switching on the gun's power. They gave Adele a look of appraisal as she entered the library, but they didn't speak to her or to Krychek himself.

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