IN THE STORMY RED SKY â€“ snippet 64:
CHAPTER 18: Above Bolton
The bow dorsal airlocks opened as Adele found the electronic keys to the substation at Bahnson Peak, on Bolton’s less-inhabited western continent. She wouldn’t have noticed that any more than she did the rest of the cruiser’s chaotic activities, except that Woetjans was bellowing, “Out out out, line up in the bloody corridor and count off now, you bloody turtles, now!”
Watch commanders always counted their riggers before landing, making sure that nobody’d gotten tangled in a cable where they’d hang till the violence of reentry whipped them to a pulp and tossed the corpse away. This was a landing with the added urgency of a ship rushing into battle. When the bosun meant to be heard, you heard her no matter how busy you were.
The Milton’s snarling High Drive braked her into orbit, and Adele was awash in data. Her first task wasn’t the information, however, but to keep the information flow open when the cruiser’s descending course took her across the planet from St James Harbor.
Bolton had a very sophisticated communications system, as was to be expected on a world that had been an Alliance regional headquarters for two generations. Nobody on the ground had thought to shut down the communications satellites, but they might do so. Adele was creating a cable pathway as backup.
It was possible the Alliance officials didn’t realize how vulnerable their satellite communications were. More likely, though, they had other things on their mind at present. The fighting on the ground wasn’t Adele’s job, but she was using real-time imagery of St James Harbor as the background to the columns of numbers which she manipulated to take over the land-lines.
The harbor was a natural embayment on the coast of East Continent. The jaws of the land were more than half a mile apart, but they were extended by artificial moles whose ends interleaved. There was a passage for surface ships at right angles to the harbor’s axis.
In addition to the Planetary Defense Array, the harbor had a concrete-walled missile emplacement at the base of each mole. In an atmosphere, an anti-starship missile greatly outranged a warship’s plasma cannon. No vessel could hope to land in the teeth of those batteries.
A bubble of orange flame licked the face of the southern missile pit. Adele had set the imagery to highlight motion, so a white caret traced a speck wobbling several hundred yards before splashing into the sea: one of the armored leaves of the gate into the site. The current magnification couldn’t pick out individual Brotherhood soldiers, but their actions identified them clearly.
Relays flopped in the Bahnson Peak Substation. Adele didn’t really know where the communications node was: all she had was a schematic with names which might be outdated or might not have had real geographical meaning in the first place.
In one sense the answer mattered, because she wanted to know all there was about everything with which she came in contact. But for now Adele Mundy had complete control of Bolton’s electronic communications systems. That would do.
“Six, all watches reporting,” Woetjans said over the command net. “All rigging is stowed for landing and all personnel are off the hull, over!”
The southern margin of St James Harbor was a military reservation surrounded by a fence with guard towers. Most of the latter were unmanned now, as generally according to the roster in Command Headquarters. Ranks of brick barracks capable of holding ten thousand troops in total marched along the western edge of the perimeter. On the other side of the fence were civilian subdivisions which had expanded to enclose the reservation.
Barracks began to disintegrate in what looked like rusty smoke. Adele knew from experience that she was seeing the dust of bricks pulverized by bursts from automatic impellers.
Great rips appeared in the roofs of civilian houses beyond; the swimming pools in their back yards scattered light as they danced in the rain of debris. Half-ounce osmium slugs accelerated by the phased coils of the impellers’ barrels kept going a long distance after they’d shattered walls, and they carried along a great deal of what they’d destroyed.
Adele began searching for a path into the northern missile pit. It was possible to isolate batteries so that they couldn’t be controlled by anyone outside the emplacement, but that meant leaving defense to a junior officer at the site. More often they were under control of director, generally in the Combat Operations Center.
She couldn’t find a connection here, though. That might mean there wasn’t one, but equally it might be a closed circuit which she couldn’t control without being physically present. The battery shouldn’t launch on a starship which simply happened to be landing, but who knew what would happen in the middle of a firefight?
“Ship, we’re going in,” Daniel said over the general channel, competing with the increased roar from the High Drive motors. “Keep her closed up till I tell you. Don’t worry, Millies, I’ll turn you loose! Six out.”
Adele’s imagery took on a specious sharpness: the actual signals had degraded, so her computer was enhancing them to a clarity which the real thing never had.
There had to be a way to control the missile pit! She’d switched off the sensor antennas feeding it, but a crew which knew what it was doing could launch using optical sights. A heavy cruiser hovering to provide fire support made a very big target. There had to–
A sulfurous cloud jetted up from the emplacement the Brotherhood had captured. A spike stabbed north from it, so close above the bay that the shockwave parted the water to the stony bottom. Although the Brotherhood was a light infantry unit, somebody in it knew or had learned how to control an anti-starship battery.
The missile struck the center of the northern emplacement. The round used kinetic energy rather than a warhead to destroy its target, but much of the missile’s fuel remained unburned at the moment of impact. A fireball lifted momentarily from the target, then sucked in to be replaced by smoke the color of rotten urine. The cloud expanded over the whole harbor, thinning but remaining a presence no matter how far it spread.
Adele switched her attention to identifying strong points still in Alliance hands. Her own taste was for subtle work, but years in the RCN had taught her to value well-placed brute force as well. She would compliment Colonel Stockheim when she next saw him, assuming they both survived.
The upper levels of Bolton’s atmosphere began to buffet the heavy cruiser. They would be down in the midst of the fighting shortly.
Though Adele had a great deal of information to process, she touched her pocket just to make sure that the familiar weight was where it should be. It didn’t seem to be the kind of battle in which a pistol would be of any importance.
But then again, it might be. And Adele Mundy would be ready.