IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 21:
CHAPTER 7: Hereward on Paton
“You can lower the ramp now, Woetjans,” Daniel called. He straightened the sleeve of his best 2nd class uniform and mused aloud, “I wonder if I ought to have worn my Whites?”
Hogg snorted. “To meet the governor of this pisspot?” he said. “I don’t bloody think so, master.”
One side of Daniel’s mouth twitched toward a grimace, but Senator Forbes and her aides didn’t seem offended. The pair of burly males carried a trunk large enough to hold a body; they didn’t bother to set it on the deck while they waited for the hatch to open. It would’ve been a problem to maneuver so bulky an item down the companionway of the Princess Cecile; Woetjans might’ve had to winch it out of an A Level access port.
The entrance hold echoed as the dogs locking the hatch withdrew in a quick series of clangs. Daniel grinned as it creaked down to become the boarding ramp. He wasn’t sure he’d have been able to tell the sound from that of slugs from an automatic impeller raking the hull.
He’d been aboard ships taking ground fire a number of times in the past; he probably would be again, unless human beings suddenly adopted a philosophy of peace. That seemed slightly less probable than Governor Das and his aides opening fire on the Milton.
Hydraulic rams drove the ramp down with controlled determination. The opening sucked in whiffs of steam and the occasional sharp glitter of plasma, tendrils of exhaust which the atmosphere of Paton hadn’t quite reduced to a resting state.
Hereward Harbor was an embayment that would’ve required artificial moles to be safe in a storm from the east. Presumably those were rare here. In any case, the sea’s unhindered flow flushed away the residues of starship landings more quickly than an enclosure would’ve done.
Adele had put her little data unit on the attaché case which Tovera held out flat like a portable table. She turned her head toward Daniel and tapped her right wand twice. “The governor’s waiting for us,” she said.
The holographic display above the unit had been a blur to Daniel; it suddenly resolved into imagery of the harborfront. Adele had switched it to omnidirectional, giving everyone around her an opportunity to see what she was seeing.
An all-terrain truck with eight large tires waited at the land side of the quay. The crest on the driver’s door meant it was as close to a limousine as the Cinnabar Resident in the Veil was authorized. Governor Das wore his diplomatic dress uniform of scarlet frock coat with black stove-pipe trousers. His boots, waistbelt with shoulder strap, and transverse bicorne hat were all of gilt leather. He was a pudgy little fellow and looked as uncomfortable as he did silly.
Behind him were two aides, a middle-aged woman and a youth who couldn’t be older than twenty. Both stood rigidly, but the woman kept shifting a flat datafile from her right hand to the left.
“Mistress, the hatch is opening,” Tovera said. She wasn’t exactly showing emotion–Daniel was pretty sure the little two-legged viper didn’t feel emotion–but her tone hinted at stress. The reaction would have puzzled a stranger who didn’t know that Tovera was as paranoid as she was lethal and that her sub-machine gun was in the case which she couldn’t open while it was Adele’s table.
Das looked over his shoulder and said something unheard to his aides. They started up the pier, marching in better time than Daniel’s class at the Academy had generally been able to manage. Was that something the foreign service taught its recruits?
“In a moment,” Adele said sharply, but even as she spoke she shut down the data unit. Tovera unlatched the case and turned, putting herself between her mistress and whatever waited beyond the lowering hatch.
Daniel smiled faintly. Because of his interest in natural history, he sometimes found himself thinking of human beings as though they were simply animals. They weren’t, of course, not simply; but other species weren’t simply animals either.
While Adele was unquestionably the dominant member of her small pack, there was a good deal of give and take between her and her servant. As there was–Daniel’s grin grew broader–between him and Hogg.
The hatch was horizontal but continued to whirr slowly downward. The crews at Bergen and Associates had done an exceptional job in straightening the Milton’s frames, warped by her collision with another ship during her final battle under Alliance colors. Part of Daniel’s duties as the vessel’s first captain after a rebuild was to assess the quality of the work which had been done on her. He’d be able to give it an enthusiastic recommendation.
An honest recommendation, but that went without saying for those who really knew Daniel Leary. He was an RCN officer first, and he wouldn’t have hesitated to shut down his own dockyard, no matter how profitable, if it hadn’t been doing work he could be proud of.
“Well, they keep a cleaner harbor than some,” said Hogg, eyeing the shore a hundred yards away. He stood with his hands in his pockets–probably gripping a pistol and his big folding knife–but managing to look sloppy rather than belligerent.
Daniel gave Hogg a sharp glance. He was trying to be nice. He was probably a little embarrassed to have spoken his mind in a fashion that could’ve caused his master difficulties with Senator Forbes, though that appeared to have gone unnoticed.
The outer edge of the boarding ramp was supported on the extended outrigger, itself as big as a corvette. From there it was still necessary to reach the shore. A team of laborers was unrolling the floating extension of foam plastic which would connect the concrete pier to the landing stage on the cruiser’s shoreside–starboard in this case–outrigger.
The usual broad street followed the curve of the harbor. Bulk cargo was stacked under tarpaulins or plastic film at several points along it, often spilling onto the pavement.
In the middle of the seafront was a small domed temple that looked old enough to date from before the Hiatus. Molded plaster sheathed the concrete walls. Flaking patches had been filled, but they were noticeably brighter than the sun-burnished surface.