Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 27


Above Peltry

Adele found freefall very uncomfortable when she was aware of it, but she easily slipped into an existence outside her physical body when confronted with a fresh mass of data to be processed. There was a smile — or at least contentment — at the back of her mind as she began linking Peltry’s communications networks to the Princess Cecile.

“Cinnabar registry ship Princess Cecile to Newtown Harbor Control,” Vesey called. Newtown was Peltry’s capital and main starport. Vesey didn’t have a particular flair for communications as Cory did, but she would be polite, correct, and if necessary extremely patient with the local personnel.

It was usually necessary to be patient with ground control once one got outside the core planets of the Cinnabar and Alliance blocs. Adele had the skill and equipment to take over most port control computers. She could give the Princess Cecile authorization to land and could block other ships from landing or lifting off.

That would often have been easier than dealing with a numbskull on the ground — or waiting for someone to finally wake up in the control booth. It would also tell everyone with a modicum of awareness how great the Sissie’s capabilities were and how dangerous the ship was to anyone with something to hide.

The most Adele had ever done was to set off the tornado warning sirens in the port of Sisleen on Brookshire, a sleepy Friend of Cinnabar. The sirens continued to wind until someone in Port Control responded to the alert signal on the console — which was the Sissie’s request for landing authorization. Adele felt that this would be explained as unconnected computer glitch…but since then, unless there was a specific reason for her to perform as a normal signals officer, she thought it best to leave the task others.

Besides taking over Peltry’s networks, Adele was collecting the contents of official databases — those of the Newtown and Peltry administrations, as well as what passed for the government of the Tarbell Stars. The last was a mare’s nest — or rather, half a dozen mare’s nests which communicated badly or not at all with one another — but Adele was used to that.

The Department of War was a well-organized exception. There was even an attempt at security. Adele’s software had been designed to penetrate Alliance systems. The 5th Bureau data from Grozhinski had specific keys to the Department of War files, but Cory hadn’t required them. A computer capable of guiding a starship through the Matrix could, with the right software, defeat almost any form of encryption.

Cory was sucking in data from the Tarbell Navy. There were at least a dozen ships in the naval harbor separated by moles from the general harbor. The largest vessel was a heavy cruiser, but it appeared to be out of service.

Adele gave the naval material only a passing glance. Cory was fully competent with the process, and his Academy background gave him advantages. She would go over his gleanings at leisure, but she didn’t expect to find anything Cory had missed.

“Princess Cecile, this is Newtown Control,” a female voice announced. “I’ll be able to clear you to land in about five minutes. There’s a freighter scheduled to lift ahead of you, over.”

Cazelet was searching Port Control and the logs of the sixty-odd ships in the general harbor. He had worked all his youth in his family shipping business until his parents fell foul of Guarantor Porra. Cazelet had fled to his grandmother, who had in turn sent him on to Adele Mundy on Cinnabar.

Just as Mistress Boileau had fostered Adele on Bryce, so Adele took responsibility for Cazelet by placing him in the crew of the Princess Cecile. It had been a good bargain for the RCN, and a very good one for Adele herself. Cazelet’s different training meshed well with what Cory had received from the RCN, and the two young men even got along well.

I’ve created a uniquely skilled staff for myself, Adele thought. Without in the least intending to. And they both feel that I’ve saved them, which is true enough but wasn’t part of a plan either.

You could accomplish quite a lot — and do quite a lot of good — without goals. Focusing on a task and doing it well was as much as could be expected of anyone. Adele assumed that must be more difficult than it seemed to be to her.

Adele noticed three small civilian craft — the largest was under two thousand tons — clustered around a hulk. They were in the orbit of Peltry’s outermost moon, about a million miles above the planet’s surface.

From their electronic signatures the ships were barely functional. Adele turned the Sissie’s excellent optical sensors to the largest of the three. The imagery showed it just as decrepit as the electronics implied: one of the ship’s four antennas was a stump, and a yard was missing on two of those remaining. A rocket basket had been welded to the hull beside the stub antenna where it would have the broadest field of fire.

She highlighted the image and checked Daniel’s display on the command console, intending to pin an icon there for him to call up when she alerted him. Daniel was already observing the strange ships, but he had focused on the hulk.

A shaded triangle on his display alerted him that she was echoing his screen. He grinned and said, “Adele, I’m looking at pirates.”

Adele had set the system so that her name cued a two-way link. She said, “I thought that’s what they were. But what’s the hulk?”

When we first met, Daniel wouldn’t have noticed that I was echoing his display, she thought with mild pride. And I wouldn’t have recognized pirates.

“They’re using a junked freighter as a water buffalo,” he said. “They probably towed it through the Matrix from wherever their base is so that they can keep a way on while they’re waiting for a target.”

“Are we going to do something?” Adele said. It wasn’t idle curiosity — she would have a part in any action. Though I don’t suppose I would have to apologize for being curious.

“I’d like to,” Daniel said. “But –”

“Princess Cecile, this is Newtown Control,” said the voice. “You are cleared to land in the outer harbor. A tug will bring you to your berth. Over.”

“But there isn’t time,” Daniel continued, “and it’s not really our business. Not yet at least. Still — can you get me a tight beam to the biggest pirate?”

“Yes,” said Adele, “but I’d be amazed if they had functioning laser or microwave receivers. I certainly don’t see any sign of antennas on them.”

“Then short wave will do,” Daniel said.

Adele adjusted the hailing antenna toward the largest vessel and said, “Go ahead.”

“Unidentified ships,” said Daniel, “this is RCS Princess Cecile. Stand by to be boarded. If you offer resistance, you will be immediately destroyed, over.”

Daniel hadn’t alerted the Sissie’s crew to what he was doing, but the ship trembled as both gun turrets slewed to bear on the pirates. Sun had been monitoring radio traffic. In a moment he would lower the turrets and lock them for landing, but now the plasma cannon were ready to fire.

Lights winked in a corner of Adele’s display. She knew if she checked she would learn that Chief Missileer Chazanoff was arming his weapons too. None of the pirates looked worth a missile, but Chazanoff wasn’t going to miss any chance that was offered.