SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 52:
CHAPTER 14: 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.