Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 35

There were several alerts on the command display — Barnes was ready to open the main hatch, Vesey was bringing the Princess Cecile down, and Pasternak had a detailed report on the propulsion systems. They could all wait until Daniel had sorted out Cazelet’s report.

“Sir, Harbor Control reported that it was the pirates from Benjamin that we saw before,” Cazelet said. “They’re probably right, but I won’t be able to confirm that until I’ve checked their records. Ah, sir? Do you suppose Officer Mundy might know, Over?”

“I’ll never bet against what Officer Mundy knows,” Daniel said with a broad grin. “But I think we can go with common sense for now. Break. Lieutenant Cory, do we have two weeks’ stores aboard, over?”

“Six, we’ve got thirty days of everything but dairy and fresh fruit,” Cory replied. “Is there anything in particular you’re worried about, over?”

“Negative,” said Daniel. “Break. Ship, this is Six. I expected to give you all a day’s liberty. That’s not going to happen after all.”

He was using the general channel, so everyone aboard the Katchaturian heard him. Though the Nabis personnel would be upset, Daniel suspected that the announcement made the Sissies within the crew hopeful, because they had a notion of what would come next.

“Instead, all the Nabis personnel are released for six hours,” Daniel said. “Former Sissies get three hours, port watch first. Starboard acts as anchor watch, then switch. When the crew has reported back aboard, we’re going to see some action. Probably not a lot of action, but we’ll be earning our pay.”

The general push was locked in send-only mode so nobody could interrupt Daniel over the intercom, but cheers echoed from the destroyer’s compartments. He continued to smile.

“Now, some of you may wonder what happens if some of you don’t show up after liberty,” Daniel said. “That’s easy: you’re off the ship. I don’t come looking for you. I don’t need spacers who don’t have the balls for a fight, because if you serve with me there’s going to be fighting. Ask the nearest Sissie if you don’t believe me. Six out.”

Daniel took a deep breath, then said, “Ship, I’m opening the main hatch. Barnes, get the gangplank out.”

He pressed Execute. The dogs withdrew from their sockets and the hatch began to pivot down.

There were now a dozen desperate messages on Daniel’s display, but there was another call he needed to make before he talked to any of his officers. “Cazelet,” he said. “I want to talk to Officer Mundy. Can you –”

“Six,” Cazelet interrupted, “you’re connected. Signals out.”

“Adele?” Daniel said. Cazelet was showing off.

“Yes,” Adele said. “I’m looking at the report of the attack which Rene sent me. Can you track the pirates?”

Cazelet has a right to show off.

“No,” said Daniel, “not through the Matrix with that much of a head start. But we’re pretty sure they’re heading for Benjamin with their loot. I think with your help we’ll be able to locate them on the planet.”

Or even without. Adele’s identifications through electronic signatures were valuable, but Daniel’s own Mark 1 Eyeball ought to be good enough to spot the captured freighter among the ships the locals used in their asteroid belt — and for piracy.

“Are you up to join a live-fire exercise against pirates?” he said.

The destroyer rocked as the Sissie landed in the next slip, her thrusters thrashing the surface like eight miniature volcanoes. Daniel would make sure that Cazelet had sent the full report to Vesey, but he didn’t interrupt his discussion with Adele to make the order explicit.

“Yes,” said Adele. “Tovera and I will be with you in half an hour. Sooner, I suppose, if you need us.”

“I’ve given the crew six hours liberty,” Daniel said. “And I want to check the rig, though I don’t expect any real deficiencies. You’ve got plenty of time.”

“Daniel, my specialist equipment is aboard the Princess Cecile,” Adele said. “I can work from the Katchaturian, but it will be more efficient if I’m aboard the Sissie.”

“That’s fine,” Daniel said. “The ships will be operating together. Ah — will this be a problem for your other duties?”

“I’ll lock the doors of the Residency when we leave,” Adele said. “The flowers may suffer, but other than that the operation here will be as productive as it was when Mistress Mignouri was in charge. Doing a favor for the 5th Bureau doesn’t take precedence over my duties to the RCN. And to you.”

“I look forward to seeing you shortly,” Daniel said. He broke the connection, smiling even more broadly.

One light minute above Benjamin

“Benjamin is a mining world,” Adele said, speaking to both the Princess Cecile and by laser link to the Katchaturian, which hung in space next to the corvette. She wasn’t sure how good the destroyer’s commo suite was, but Cazelet and Cory were both aboard her. They would make something work so that the whole crew got the briefing.

“I suppose I should say that Benjamin is a metal processing world,” Adele said. “The residents haul metallic asteroids to the planet’s surface and process them with fusion plants. The work is easier for low-skill personnel to do in normal gravity and atmosphere, and they aren’t concerned about waste products because Benjamin is largely a desert with oases in which most residents live.”

“The residents live like rats in brush hovels,” said Daniel, the only person whom Adele had permitted to comment; all other helmets and consoles were locked out. “That’s another reason they don’t worry about wastes, over.”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Adele said. She knew that she worried more about precise details than most listeners did; certainly she worried more than an audience of common spacers on a warship. In her heart though, Adele knew she was right and they were wrong, which made it very difficult for her to restrain the tendency.

She displayed a real-time image of the surface of Benjamin. Normally the necessary level of enhancement at this distance would have washed out details, despite the Sissie’s excellent optics. That wasn’t a problem with Benjamin, because there were no details.

The surface of the planet was of a generally tawny color flecked with gray wedges downwind of smelter flues. No standing water was visible, though Adele knew that greater magnification would have picked up ponds at low points. The watercourses were underground, and only a light dusting of ice glittered at the poles.

“You’ll notice the bright smears at various locations,” Adele said, focusing down on one which was catching sunlight at an angle to display its metallic sheen. “The sharp end of each is a smelter. Ordinarily the settlement will be upwind of the smelter, though I have found exceptions.”

Daniel’s comments about rats living in hovels was unjust to rats. All rats would have moved out of the path of sulfurous fumes.

“That isn’t a concern with the two villages we’re interested in,” Adele said, shifting the display to place the adjacent sites — they were fifteen miles apart — in the same frame. Huts were merely irregularities at this magnification, but the ships were brightly visible: one large and two small ones at the village on the left and a medium-sized ship on the right.

“The nickel-iron which the smelters produce must be transported to other systems for use,” Adele continued. “It pays for basic food stuffs, generally processed algae. Higher value trace minerals are exchanged for luxuries from the small trading vessels which make periodic visits to Benjamin. All in all, it’s a pretty miserable existence, so it’s not really surprising that some miners have turned to piracy in neighboring systems.”

Under other circumstances, Adele might have hesitated before she used a laser communicator to link the two ships, since it was important that they avoid notice from the planet below. Passive observation of ships a light minute out would have been difficult from the surface even of a developed world, but when they were using active emitters detection became an order of magnitude easier.

That said, on Benjamin an order of magnitude didn’t raise the risk to the level of real danger. The only laser receptor on the planet was the one on the freighter whose capture had brought the Nabis Contingent here.