SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 85:



            The Pellegrinians mostly weren't shooting. They couldn't effectively engage the corvette this far out. The 50-mm plasma cannon–if any survived–didn't have the range.


            Half a mile through an atmosphere considerably diffused the Sissie's bolts, but that only increased their psychological effect. They hit as broad showers of ions, igniting square yards of their present unprotected targets. Tents became infernos, and the light-metal antennas of the communications center melted or burned.


            At every ringing shot, the off-duty Sissies–most of the crew–cheered enthusiastically. Vesey was echoing the targeting displays on every screen in the ship. She'd learned the trick from Adele. The memory of your friends is a kind of immortality….


            The sandbagged trailers of the HQ got multiple bolts. The Princess Cecile was high enough that the berm was no protection. Woven plastic sandbags vanished in smoky flames; their contents either burned or fused, depending on the ratio of loam to sand in each one. After the third or fourth round, one of the trailers collapsed; after half a dozen more the installation had fallen into mounds of earth with flames licking from within.


            A red light flashed on the right of Daniel's display. "Sir, I think you'd better listen to this," Vesey said on the intercom. "Five out!"


            Daniel, his face suddenly still, opened the transmission by touching the light with his index finger. "–ender at once!" snarled a man. His anger and Pellegrinian accent made the words almost unintelligible, but Vesey remembered–finally! She's doing a great job, but God I miss Adele!–to run a text crawl across the bottom of Daniel's display: Caio Duilio.


            Sun and Cory had run out of targets, but Daniel didn't have any more to offer them. By this point the Volunteers might be anywhere in the base. Without proper fire direction from the troops engaged, Daniel couldn't risk shooting at further targets that weren't shooting at the Princess Cecile.


            "Blantyre," Daniel said, verbally keying the direct intercom link. "I'm taking the helm. Break. Duilio, this is Commander Daniel Leary, RCN. To whom do I have the honor of speaking, over?"


            As he spoke, he flared the thruster nozzles and boosted flow. He carried out the two operations so smoothly that only the Power Room crew would've known what'd happened. Because of inertia, it took longer to increase the flow of reaction mass than it did to iris down the Stellite laminae of the jets. It seemed very likely that the Princess Cecile would have to accelerate shortly.


            "Listen you bloody pirate!" the cruiser transmitted. "This is Captain Owen ap Glynn! You'll surrender to me now, I mean now, or I'll blow you to Hell! Do you surrender, over?"


            "Ship, prepare for maneuvering," Daniel said. "Break. Captain ap Glynn, I'm an officer of the RCN and carrying out the orders of the Cinnabar Senate. I appreciate you–"


            "Six, he's launching!" Blantyre said. Vesey had blocked the intercom link, but the midshipman's shout was audible over the thrusters.


            Daniel didn't need the warning, but this was definitely a case where Blantyre was right not to take a chance. He slammed the jets tight as he swung the attitude yoke to starboard. Starships really didn't accelerate very quickly, even a warship without her usual load of missiles. Nonetheless the Sissie accelerated as quickly as she could.


            The Duilio 'd been holding in a powered orbit above Dunbar's World while waiting for the Rainha to unload–as ap Glynn had thought. Now, just as the cruiser moved into the planet's shadow, she'd launched two missiles toward the ground. That was a waste of expensive hardware, Daniel thought, but he wasn't going to chance ap Glynn getting lucky. He was taking the Princess Cecile as far out of the possible impact zone as the thrusters could move her.


            "Ship, action stations," he ordered, suddenly cheerful and a little surprised to realize it. This wasn't a good situation, but nothing–not even sex–made Daniel feel more alive than needing to function at ten tenths capacity. "Woetjans, get your people ready to set sail ASAP when I give the order. You may have to work under full acceleration, out."


            The riggers'd started pulling themselves into their hard suits as soon as Daniel'd warned that he was about to maneuver. The Princess Cecile's crew was not only veteran, they were razor sharp.


            The corvette was low enough that at maximum output and minimum aperture her thruster exhaust dimpled the sea. Columns of steam drifted north on the sea breeze as the Sissie roared east at nearly three gravities' acceleration. Distance is our friend….


            "Listen, you Cinnabar dog-turds!" ap Glynn continued. So far as Daniel was concerned there was no longer any point in talking, but the Pellegrinian captain obviously had a different opinion. "If you think you can come here and make a fool out of me, think again! I'm not going back home and have the Chancellor hang me, no bloody way!"


            Daniel didn't know for sure what the Duilio's missiles were aimed at, but it didn't really matter: a ship launching into an atmosphere had only a random statistical chance of hitting any particular target. Not even the planetary surface was a complete certainty.


            The missiles screamed out of the eastern sky, tracing dazzling streaks on the optical display. The first of the pair suddenly began to corkscrew in increasing circles.


            Missiles were powered by High Drive motors like those which starships used when they were above the atmosphere. They ejected a certain amount of antimatter into the exhaust–and if it was in an atmosphere, the atom-by-atom explosions ate away at first the motor, then the vessel itself.


            That was happening to both Pellegrinian missiles. The first was obviously destroying itself but the other's motor was certainly degrading itself also. Despite that it drove into the sea almost precisely between where the corvette had been and the shore of Mandelfarne.


            The first spun in an expanding helix until, three miles above the surface, it broke apart and sprayed down like the heart of a comet. Perhaps half the fragments hit the island. Smoke and a single orange fireball shot skyward. Daniel had no better idea of who or what they'd hit than Captain ap Glynn could.


            Ap Glynn didn't care. Ap Glynn was so angry and frightened–Daniel was sure he'd been right to fear hanging if he returned to Pellegrino–that he'd committed an act of war against direct orders. Chancellor Arruns might be very angry that his invasion of Dunbar's World had failed, very possibly with the death of his son, but he certainly knew that declaring war on Cinnabar meant his reign on Pellegrino was finished also.


            "Land your bloody ship, Leary!" ap Glynn said. "You surrender and you tell the other dog-turds from Bennaria to surrender, and then the bloody dog-turd farmers on Dunbar's World can surrender also! All of you give up, or I won't leave one stone on another in Port Dunbar. And I'll land on Mandelfarne and blast it till it bloody glows, I will!"


            There was movement in the compartment. Daniel's whole attention was focused on the Plot Position Indicator with which he'd replaced the terrain maps, but from the corner of his eye he saw Sun's head jerk to the right. Somebody'd sat down at the Signals console; at Adele's console.


            "Cinnabar Six, this is Rainbow One," said a voice. Daniel knew it was Adele's only because it had to be Adele's; she quavered like an octogenarian speaking around an oxygen tube. "We have the captured battery operational again. Do not, I repeat do not, attempt to approach within thirty kilometers of Mandelfarne Island. The targeting and launch are automatic. Acknowledge, please. Rainbow One over."


            "Rainbow One, this is Cinnabar Six," Daniel said. He set the astrogational computer to plotting a course to orbit, taking into account the position of the Duilio. This is going to be very tricky…. "Acknowledged. Be very careful, because the wogs had Alliance advisors. They dispersed two missiles to the west end of the island to avoid commando strikes. Six out."


            So much for the risk of ap Glynn bringing the cruiser down on Mandelfarne and blasting the Volunteers out with 15-cm guns. Adele had thought fast and then done the impossible.