IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 38:

The Milton carried three spaceboats equipped with plasma thrusters rather than High Drive. They had neither rigging to sail the Matrix nor the powerful computer that would’ve been necessary to control such a rig. Their purpose was simply to ferry up to twenty people apiece between orbit and a planetary surface, or in rare instances between ships in sidereal space.

The boats were comfortably appointed as they would often be carrying officers or other dignitaries. They had no integral armament nor any easy way to add weapons, and the single one-person hatch of each was completely unsuited for a combat assault. That wouldn’t prevent the Millies, or at least the former Sissies among them, from trying to fly through batteries of antiship missiles and plasma cannon to capture the Headman’s palace.
And if worse came to worst, Signals Officer Mundy would be jamming the fire control systems of those missiles and cannon, because the cruiser’s complement included spacers and Marines who would be very nearly as useful as she was for a close-in assault. Nobody Adele had met could disrupt an enemy’s defensive computers as effectively as she could.
She brushed the pistol in her pocket with the edge of her left hand, then went back to her own business. It wouldn’t come to an assault.
Though if it did, Cory and Cazelet might between them manage something useful on the computers. Whereas she very much doubted that anybody else aboard the Milton had put as many people down with quick aimed shots as she had.
She’d given Rene Cazelet the task of gathering data from the other ships in Port Hegemony, starting with those under the Hydriote flag. There shouldn’t be anything tricky about their security systems, but the nomenclature and shorthand of merchant vessels were quite different from those of the RCN. Cazelet’s family–before Guarantor Porra had executed his parents–had run a medium-sized shipping line; Rene had been trained as both a spacer and as a port manager before he had to flee for his life.
If Cory or Cazelet ran into unexpected problems, they’d ask Adele for help. Unless and until that happened, however, she was opening the databases of the AFS Merkur, and great clouds of data were tumbling into view.
Like all Alliance–and Cinnabar–warships, the Merkur had a separate computer for its encryption procedures. This couldn’t be entered through the destroyer’s communications system, and its storage was probably serving as the diplomatic pouch also. Adele couldn’t touch its contents.
She could browse all the Merkur’s unsegregated databases, however. One of the ships captured following the Battle of the Jewel System was a light cruiser deadlined at the Alliance base. It had been powered down and its crew had been transferred to active vessels. The ground personnel who surrendered the base to the victorious RCN squadron had forgotten–or hadn’t known to begin with–to set off the self-destruction charge in the cruiser’s encryption computer. As a result, Mistress Sand’s organization had the Fleet’s daily code sets for the next three months.
Adele knew that the Merkur carried an embassy to Headman Hieronymos. She didn’t have the details that the segregated computer would’ve given her, but those weren’t difficult to imagine when she compared the names of the envoys with the up-to-date Fleet personnel list which was part of the kit which Mistress Sand had provided to Adele.
The leader of the delegation was Captain Stewart Greathouse. He was the cousin of Admiral Petersen, the Alliance commander in the Montserrat Stars, and acted as the admiral’s aide and confidant.
The other two envoys were the Cohen brothers, Alexander and Melvin. Though Fleet lieutenants, they’d been born on Karst. Twenty years previously they’d been whisked into exile when their grandfather was implicated in a plot against Headman Terl.
Without access to the diplomatic files, Adele could only speculate about the specifics of Admiral Petersen’s embassy. More information was probably available through the Hegemony databases, but Cory was on that; indeed, unless Adele was badly mistaken Daniel and Senator Forbes would very shortly have personal experience of what the Alliance was about. She went back to the destroyer’s operational logs.
The Merkur had been part of the Alliance fleet operating near New Harmony, the forward base for Admiral Ozawa’s RCN forces in the Montserrat Stars. The two fleets were roughly equal, each comprised of four battleships and a comparable number of attendant vessels.
Cinnabar’s infrastructure in the cluster, however, was very shaky. Admiral Ozawa had brought his fleet to New Harmony in large measure to keep the government of that important world from declaring neutrality or even switching its support to the Alliance.
At the bottom of Adele’s screen, a text crawl read AIRCAR WITH SIX JUST LANDED IN OUTER COURT OF HEADMAN’S PALACE. Adele shifted the visual feeds from Daniel’s commo unit and Tovera’s case to the upper left quadrant of her display, though she left the audio in record mode for now.
Vesey had sent the alert. It was typical of that tense, thoughtful officer that she chose text rather than voice, providing the information without interrupting whatever task Adele was involved with.
It was one of Vesey’s great strengths as an officer that she always thought several steps ahead of any action. It was her personal curse, however, that the options expanding from that foresight tore her apart. She never became too paralyzed to act, but sometimes she didn’t act as quickly as a crisis demanded.
Adele returned her attention to the Merkur’s log, digging deeper into the operational files. Her mouth suddenly went dry, though she continued to read and excerpt the information that she was uncovering.
There’d been a battle off New Harmony. The log of a destroyer wasn’t the best source from which to gain an overview of a major fleet action, but the general thrust of the information was clear enough.
Admiral Petersen had won a stunning victory. All four RCN battleships had been destroyed.