This book should be starting to appear in bookstores by now, so this will be the last snippet. Eric
IN THE STORMY RED SKY â€“ snippet 68:
A pall of steam rose from a slip near the eastern end of the naval harbor. From ground level the vessel floating there wouldn’t have been visible over the quay at this stage of the tide, but Daniel’s masthead sensors let him peer down on it. Another hundred-foot mine tender like the one the Milton had destroyed in orbit was trying desperately to escape and warn Admiral Petersen of the disaster.
“R16, this is Captain Daniel Leary!” Daniel said. “Shut down immediately! You will not escape, you cannot escape. Shut down now and avoid dying for no purpose, over!”
Text crawled across the bottom of Daniel’s display: VOLTAIRE 6, THIS IS TIGER. GET YOUR PERSONNEL BENEATH OVERHEAD COVER IMMEDIATELY, REPEAT, SEEK OVERHEAD COVER, OUT.
Voltaire 6 was Colonel Stockheim’s call sign, while Tiger was the Milton. Adele was keeping Daniel informed of her transmission without interfering with what he was doing.
“R16, this is suicide!” Daniel said. “You must shut–”
The gush of steam from Berth 4 redoubled, concealing the mine tender for a moment. Then the hull with its minimum rig rose slowly from the cloud. They probably don’t even have stores aboard for an interstellar voyage!
“Six, I’ve got her, over!” Sun cried. He was hunched over his console, his right hand poised over the EXECUTE button.
“Gunner, you may fire one round only,” Daniel said, his face hard. Taking risks and ordering others to take risks were major parts of a naval officer’s duties. This sort of pointless bravado disgusted him.
The shot came quicker than Daniel had expected. Because of the Milton’s greater height, Sun had managed to get an angle while the tender was still largely within her slip. From the masthead sensors, Daniel saw a wedge of the top of the quay blaze white as the lower margin of the bolt touched it, reducing the concrete to quicklime and shattered gravel.
Most of the plasma struck the R16, however, and ripped her in two. In a breathable atmosphere, steel heated to the temperature of a star became fuel. The central portion of the little vessel didn’t just vaporize as it would have done in space, it burned.
An iridescent fireball filled the slip, then paled as it lurched upward. When it burst high in the air, diamond-bright droplets rained down.
R16’s bow dived into the slip, driven by two working thrusters. A double blast followed when water bathed the hot Stellite nozzles. It would have been impressive if it hadn’t been upstaged by the plasma bolt itself.
The last ten feet of the tender’s stern accelerated skyward in a steep curve while Daniel watched in amazement. The fragment hurtled several hundred feet up before the thruster driving it ran out of reaction mass. It spun, flinging out lesser debris which seemed to include a pair of human bodies, and plunged into a subdivision. There was no explosion, but more houses began to burn.
“The bloody fool,” Daniel said. That was as much of an epitaph as R16’s commander would get or deserved.
He took a deep breath, furious at the waste. “Ship, this is Six,” he said. “All clear, all clear. And Gunner, that was a fine piece of work. Six out.”
Calm again, Daniel turned back to Senator Forbes. “Sun, that’s our Gunner–”
He gestured left-handed toward the gunnery console.
“–caught the mine tender while it was still in its berth. If it had had time to get up to a thousand feet or so it would have been an easy target because of the reduced deflection, but the falling debris would’ve done all manner of damage. That was very good work.”
Daniel didn’t know what if anything Forbes made of what he was saying, but the fact that Sun heard his captain praise him to the Senator was important. Sun had done a very good piece of work. Most of the lives he’d saved were those of local civilians, but there would’ve been losses among the Brotherhood infantry too.
“Yes, I see,” said Forbes in the tone of somebody who would have preferred not to have been interrupted. “When were you planning to meet the Alliance Commodore?”
There was a dull bong and the cruiser rocked slightly. Forbes and her aides might not even have noticed it after the violence of the plasma cannon, but it announced to Daniel that the boarding ramp had lowered until it butted firmly. The naval berths in St James Harbor were as well appointed as those of Harbor Three on Cinnabar; instead of floating catwalks, metal extensions unfolded from the dock on cantilevered supports.
“Yes,” he said. “If you’re ready, your Excellency, we’ll be heading for the command bunker in about five minutes when the utility vehicles come up from the hold. I’d have used the aircars–”
“Except that the turbulence which the ship creates makes them too dangerous a risk to my life?” the Senator said. Her tone was so dry that Daniel wasn’t sure whether she was joking or still angry over his previous manipulation.
“No, your Excellency,” he said. Forbes had a right to be angry, and this would be as good a time–in the middle of a major victory–as he could imagine for her to let it out. “Because it’s too dangerous to put anybody up in the air when hundreds of Alliance personnel are loose and haven’t been disarmed. I’ll take my chances–our chances, if I may say so–with the odd slug flying around, but it’s easier than you might think to shoot an aircar right out of the sky. And it’s very hard to dodge gravity if that happens.”
Forbes sniffed and looked down at the cream sleeve of her jacket. “I should have worn gray,” she said, as much to herself as to anybody. “This will be all soot by the time we get to this bunker.”
“Well, think of it this way, Senator,” said Hogg in a raspy voice. “So long as you haven’t shat your trousers, you’ll be better dressed than the local brass you’ll be meeting.”
Forbes stared at him, then turned to Daniel. He let the smile ease from his lips and waited with a neutral expression.
“Your man has a smart mouth, Leary,” she said. “Does he know how to handle those guns he’s carrying?”
“Hogg is a very good shot, your Excellency,” Daniel said.
“I thought he might be,” Forbes said. Her face crinkled into a slight smile. “And I dare say he’s right about how our opposite numbers reacted to being on the other end of those bloody great cannon. Well, whenever you’re ready. Do you have to change clothes?”
Daniel glanced down at his utilities. “No, your Excellency,” he said. He took the sub-machine gun which Hogg offered. “This is a useful reminder to Commodore Harmston that we’re a fighting force.”
The first of the Hydriote transports was rumbling down from the stratosphere with a load of the Fonthill Militia. Blantyre was in charge of them. Before they’d even lifted from Fonthill, she’d used maps of St James City to set up patrol areas. Each unit would be commanded by a petty officer from the cruiser. There’d have to be adjustments–there would have been adjustments even if a tenth of the city hadn’t been destroyed in the assault–but Blantyre would take care of the problems without bothering her captain about them.
“As soon as we’re sure the Alliance forces understand that they’ve surrendered,” Daniel said, “I will change–at least into my Grays. The prisoners from Admiral Ozawa’s squadron are in a quarry north of the city. Freeing them is my next priority, and they deserve the respect of a dress uniform.”
Forbes nodded crisply. “I’ll join you,” she said. There was no question at all in her done.
“I hoped you would,” Daniel said truthfully. “Now, let’s deal with Harmston.”
He glanced back at the panorama as he started out of the compartment with Hogg, Major Mull, and Senator Forbes. Armed spacers were trotting down the Milton’s boarding ramp. That would be the cadres for the Militia as well as the cruiser’s own security party, as expected. But among them–
Daniel looked at the signals console; it was empty, though Cory was doubtless handling communications from his station. He’d been right to think that the two slim figures leaving the ship were Adele and Tovera. They’d left the bridge while his attention was on Senator Forbes.
What in heaven is Adele doing now?
Though being Adele in the present chaos, the question might better be phrased, What in Hell?