Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 34


Above Peltry

“Braking in five seconds,” Daniel announced over the ship channel, piping his voice through every commo helmet and every PA speaker on the Katchaturian. He watched the countdown clock and said, “Braking — now.”

He pressed the Execute button, which on this Sverdlovsk-built destroyer was a real button instead of being virtual like that of the Sissie. The twelve plasma thrusters roared in unison.

The ship shuddered — of course — but with a little more violence than Daniel thought was proper. He eyed the readouts, then used the vernier scale to adjust the attitude of both bow nozzles on the port outrigger. The vibration smoothed noticeably.

He grinned. Noticeably to him, at least.

“Power,” Daniel said, keying a two-way link to Chief Engineer Pasternak. The 2 g braking thrust would be uncomfortable to walk in, but it didn’t seriously affect anyone’s ability to speak. “Chief, I think you solved the problems when you blew out Tank Three. “Good call, over.”

When Daniel moved to the Katchaturian, he had brought the Sissie’s chief engineer with him. The corvette’s propulsion systems were in blue-print condition, but he hadn’t been confident that the same would be true for the destroyer.

In fact neither the thruster nozzles nor the High Drive motors of the Katchaturian had excessive hours on them. On the voyage out to 5L13TTF — the uninhabited world Daniel had chosen for training — there had been niggling stumbles in both systems, however.

Pasternak had finally decided that the problem wasn’t in the power units themselves but rather was debris in one of the destroyer’s reaction mass tanks. The Power Room crew had blown out the tank and the lines it fed while Daniel and his officers conducted training either on the ground or on the Princess Cecile.

“Six, I don’t think that tank had been drained in years,” Pasternak replied. “That bloody Riddle –” the Katchaturian’s chief engineer when Daniel took over the Nabis Contingent; Pasternak had cashiered him on his first inspection of the destroyer’s Power Room “– was a lazy scut besides being a drunk, which was why I fired him. The ship made only short hops, and Riddle didn’t rotate the draw so that they all got used. Over.”

“Six out,” Daniel said, smiling faintly.

The stutter in the thrusters as he brought the Katchaturian down on a rocky shoreline on 5L13TTF for the first time had been unnerving. The problem could have been in the ship’s electronics — or worse, the wiring harness. The notion that trash in the reaction mass lines was randomly starving the thrusters of fuel hadn’t occurred to him, because it was so easy to prevent.

Atmospheric buffeting began when the destroyer braked into Peltry’s stratosphere. It grew worse as she dropped lower.

A starship couldn’t be streamlined. Even with the antennas and yards telescoped and lashed firmly to the hull, a ship was a mass of irregular protrusions. At the speeds a starship entered the atmosphere, you could only hang on and hope that nothing — well, as little as possible — carried away.

The Sissie and Katchaturian had proceeded to their destination in a series of hops through the Matrix rather than the single insertion which was all that so short a distance really required. Daniel was not only giving the new personnel as much experience as possible, he wanted his Sissies to get a feel for people who would revert to being officers if they worked out.

Most of the Nabis officers had done pretty well, or anyway well enough. An infantry captain — formally, the ground troops had been the Capital Regiment on Nabis — was probably a decent officer in his original slot, but he had proven unwilling to take orders from warrant officers or from women. Minister Robin might well have a use for him; Daniel Leary did not.

The Katchaturian handled well on reentry; better than the Princess Cecile if the truth were told, though Daniel didn’t think he would ever say that aloud. They were actually slanting in short of his intended path to Newtown Harbor, so he angled the thrusters to emphasize lift over braking. The buffeting increased, but not seriously.

5L13TTF had a breathable atmosphere and a temperate climate at the equator. It had never been settled because there was no soil and plenty of more suitable worlds in this region, but it was a perfect place for firearms training.

“Marksmanship training” would have been overstating the process, because at the end of it most of the spacers — Sissies as well as the Nabis recruits — still couldn’t be expected to hit a man-sized target much farther than they could have thrown the weapon.

They were less likely to be afraid of an impeller, however, and they were probably less likely to shoot things by accident. A technician had blown off his own big toe, but spacers regularly lost digits and even limbs. Daniel thought the fellow would be all right in the Katchaturian’s Power Room once he’d healed.

He halted the destroyer in a hover, then slid her sideways into position a hundred feet above her slip in the naval harbor. Flaring the thruster nozzles manually, Daniel set her down. Just above the surface their descent slowed. The ship wallowed for a moment, cushioned by steam licked upward by plasma exhaust. When the outriggers touched the water, Daniel chopped the throttles.

It had been a good landing, though a slight drift to port suggested that either thruster alignment or the sphincter balance wasn’t as good as it could be. He and Pasternak with all the original Nabis officers would go over the propulsion systems in the next day or two.

It was also true that the Katchaturian’s greater length to breadth ratio than a corvette emphasized Daniel’s sloppiness. Schnitker — the Nabis and later Tarbell captain, now Daniel’s striker — would have said that the landing had been perfect.

Daniel grinned. When I start judging my performance by the standards of an officer from Novy Sverdlovsk, now working in the back of beyond, it will be time to retire. Though in fairness, Schnitker was a decent astrogator and a better shiphandler than most recent Academy graduates.

The Katchaturian pinged and crackled as she cooled. The pumps in her stern throbbed, sucking harbor water to replenish the ship’s reaction mass through fat hoses. For human use the water would be distilled, but inlet filtering was sufficient for the thrusters and High Drives. Any working fluid was adequate for the propulsion systems, but using water had benefits for the crews.

Daniel checked his read-outs and found no red lights. Barnes, the bosun, and his crew wouldn’t be able to check the rigging until the ship had cooled considerably, but at least they hadn’t lost a whole antenna. The hull’s integrity was as good as you could expect of a ship which had seen more than twenty years service, and only one of the High Drive motors was showing excessive wear. In all, a very satisfactory —

Cazelet was the Katchaturian’s acting signals officer. The slot was ordinarily that of a junior warrant officer, but Daniel had become used to having a signals officer who did more than pass messages.

Neither Cory nor Cazelet were the equal of Adele, but she had trained them to do many of the things she did — and more important, to think the way she did. When Cazelet sent an alert message to the command console, Daniel opened it immediately and scanned the contents.

“Cazelet,” he said, opening a link. “What has the government reaction been, over?”

“Sir, there hasn’t been one,” Cazelet said. “Not to mention, I mean. Port Control alerted the Alfonso, the destroyer on standby, but the captain queried the Ministry of War and the Ministry hasn’t responded. That was five hours ago, over.”

“Do we know who the pirates were?” Daniel said. He called up the recordings of Katchaturian’s Plot Position Indicator when they extracted above Peltry an hour ago. The hulk which held reaction mass for the pirates remained where it had been, a million miles above the surface, but the three smaller vessels had vanished.