Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 46


Newtown on Peltry

Tovera, wearing a chauffeur’s uniform, opened the door of the limousine’s passenger compartment for Grozhinski. He started to get in and only then noticed that Adele was inside waiting for him. The windows were opaque from the outside.

“Lady Mundy!” he said as the door closed behind him. “Have you been able to alert Minister Robin’s guards?”

The freighter Fisher 14 had reached Peltry orbit three hours before. Its astrogation computer had immediately sent an alert to the Residency, warning that there would shortly be an attempt on Christopher Robin’s life. The immediately following message said that the Resident should arrange for Major Grozhinski to be picked up upon landing and meet Lady Mundy as soon as possible.

“We took care of that yesterday,” Adele said. “The gunmen from Section C arrived before you did and went to work immediately. They were unsuccessful.”

“I’m…” Grozhinski said. “Well, I’m very glad to hear that. I was afraid I would be too late. As I gather I was.”

Tovera pulled into the space at the Residency. The top of the gatepost still lay in the yard. Adele wondered if she should call for brick masons in the Nabis Contingent and have them repair it. She had learned early in her association with the RCN that starship personnel included a wide variety of skills which had nothing to do with their normal duties.

Adele waited until they were within the shielded Residency to say, “I gather that communication in the other direction, from me to your organization, has been delayed also. Master Mignouri has had a stroke. I’ve been acting as your Resident myself. Yesterday I delegated those duties to Midshipman Cazelet. He’s downstairs now.”

Grozhinski stared blankly for a moment, then laughed. He seated himself at the table at the edge of the room and opened his briefcase.

“We’ve been having a run of bad luck, haven’t we?” he said. Adele took the chair across from his. “And one piece of good luck, Lady Mundy: that you’re on hand. Which seems to have been enough. Well, this next item isn’t luck. This was a very clever move by General Krychek, and it took us by surprise.”

The file appeared in Adele’s data unit. She forwarded it to Cazelet upstairs before she even opened it. This was 5th Bureau material — in a way, at least — and if Grozhinski had concerns about it being in the Residency database, it was his job to remove it.

“Umm,” Adele said as she scanned the material. “Danziger is outside both the Tarbell Stars and the Alliance. How were Krychek’s agents able to embargo the missiles?”

The missiles on which the Tarbell Stars were depending had been captured by Cinnabar — captured by Daniel himself — after the Battle above Cacique. Because they were of Alliance design and manufacture, the RCN had declared them surplus to requirements with the cessation of hostilities. Minister Forbes had arranged for their sale to the Tarbell government at the price of scrap metal.

“Danziger is independent, yes,” Grozhinski said, “but when two Fleet investigators arrived with evidence that the missiles had been stolen from Fleet stocks, the local authorities probably didn’t see any choice but to embargo them until the matter could be adjudicated. Which might reasonably be at some time after the Upholders have succeeded in conquering the Tarbell Stars.”

He shrugged. “I don’t say that no money changed hands from Krychek’s agents to the locals,” he said. “But it might not have been necessary.”

“I see,” said Adele. An independent world couldn’t risk being seen as a receiver of war stocks stolen from a neighboring superpower. Cinnabar wouldn’t regard an Alliance punitive expedition to correct the situation as a breach of the Treaty of Amiens.

The stock of top-grade missiles which Cinnabar was sending to the Tarbell Stars had permitted Robin to bypass the generation of neglect which had rotted the Tarbell Navy into a rickety joke. Freighters configured as missile ships weren’t really warships, but they would be sufficient to defeat the Upholders — and that would buy time for the Minister of War to create a real, professional navy to maintain the central government’s sovereignty against internal and external threats.

Without the missiles, the government had no time. Adele smiled faintly. It would be very tempting to add that the government had no chance, either.

“Very well,” Adele said, getting to her feet. “The next step is to bring the matter to Captain Leary. He’s at the dockyard, overseeing the conversion of the freighters Montclare and Montcalm into missile ships.”

“What will Captain Leary be able to do?” Grozhinski said as he closed his briefcase and rose with her.

“If I could answer that question…” Adele said tartly. “I wouldn’t need to talk with Daniel.”

* * *

Daniel stood beside Pasternak and Captain Ealing on the platform of an out-of-service crane, looking down on the refitting of the Montclare. Arc welders snarled as they attached brackets to the hull. Hogg stood far enough back that the actinic radiation was blocked by the floor of the platform; otherwise it would’ve burned holes in his retinas. The three spacers wore goggles.

Six teams were working on the Montclare. There were four more in the next dock on the Montcalm, another fast freighter, to add to the racket.

“The ship’s existing computer will handle missile computations easily,” Daniel said. “My people — ” Cory and Chief Missileer Chazanoff ” — are installing the necessary software, and the yard is adding missile stations.”

These were flat-plate displays rather than full holographic consoles, but they were sufficient for the present purpose. The multiple alternate tracks that a warship’s console could handle were unnecessary: the two government missile ships would only be targeting the rebel heavy cruiser, deluging her with missiles which would either overwhelm the vessel — the Upholder — or drive her from the battle.

“That’s all fine…” said Captain Ealing. “But what if they shoot back? Are you adding cannon so that we can stop incoming missiles? Right now there’s only the one gun station for pirates on each of these freighters.”

Ealing was the civilian captain of the Montclare whom Minister Robin had hired when he bought the ship for the Navy of the Tarbell Stars. Daniel had kept an open mind about whether he would confirm the appointment now that he had been put in command of the navy. However —

Anyone who thought that plasma cannon could stop missiles was probably too ignorant for any naval appointment. Skillfully used, plasma bolts could nudge a missile in a direction which would not intersect with the track which the target vessel intended to follow.

A warhead weighed over a tonne, however. Even if it were vaporized by direct hits, the tonne of vapor would continue on the plotted trajectory and do equal — if varied — damage to the target should they intersect. The trick was to vaporize divots from the warhead’s mass to thrust it out of the ship’s course.

“We don’t have time to fit plasma cannon,” Daniel said, “or to train gunners to naval standards. The missile ships will be defended by the dedicated warships accompanying them.”

He realized he was frowning. “Captain,” Daniel said. “This is a war and there are risks. It is my job to minimize those risks to the degree possible, and it is your job to carry out my orders promptly and to the best of your abilities.”

A sharp Clang! punctuated the arc welders’ pervasive nastiness, followed by another and at length a third and fourth. Woetjans was on the Montclare’s hull with a bronze maul, hammering a freshly welded bracket from both directions.