The Road Of Danger – Snippet 31


          The little freighter–from the timing, she was the ship which had lifted as “Principal Hrynko” was leaving the sector headquarters building–was using tight-beam microwave to transmit to the Estremadura and, through a separate antenna, to a communication satellite above Madison. That was to be expected as the captain hoped to be rescued by the Forty Stars Squadron.


          The Estremadura was also transmitting to Madison Control as well as to the freighter. That was a surprise, though Adele’s patch into the military observation constellation would have brought the details of the incident to the Princess Cecile even without the parties being so helpful.


          “Sister Kate, this is the Fleet Auxiliary Cruiser Estremadura,” the other vessel responded. The speaker was male and had what Adele thought was a Pleasaunce accent. “We have warned you to lie to. The manifest you filed before liftoff is false. We have a true manifest, showing that you are carrying arms and other contraband to the rebels on Sunbright. If you attempt to evade us by maneuver or by inserting into the Matrix, we will destroy you under authority of our commission as an auxiliary in the Funnel Squadron. Do not doubt me! Over.”


          The sidebar–twice, of course–gave the particulars of the Estremadura. She had been built eighty years before as an anti-pirate cruiser on Hallowell, a Cinnabar client-world in the Macotta Region. She was now registered on Sunbright and commissioned as a Fleet auxiliary.


          The cruiser displaced 3,000 tons compared with the Sissie at 1,300 under full load. It didn’t carry missiles because its intended prey was lightly-built pirate craft of a few hundred tons, but it mounted eight 4-inch plasma cannon in separate mountings.


          Adele scrolled back in time, running the verbal exchange between the ships as text at the bottom of her screen while she watched the business unfold. Madison was the second planet of this system. The Estremadura had been keeping station thirty million miles out-sun, in the orbit of the third planet. It had made a short hop through the Matrix, extracting a hundred thousand miles above Madison only minutes before the Sister Kate lifted from Ashe Haven.


          The Sister Kate rose to orbit and lighted her High Drive motors to accelerate. When she reached what her captain considered sufficient velocity, she would insert into the Matrix and slip through a sequence of bubble universes in which the constants of space and time differed usefully from those of the sidereal universe. While a ship could multiply its existing velocity in the Matrix, it could not accelerate until it returned to the universe in which it properly existed.


          The Estremadura had ordered the freighter to shut off her motors and lie to. When the freighter’s captain predictably ignored the challenge, the cruiser fired two plasma cannon at the smaller vessel. The range was too great for the bolts to seriously damage the freighter, but there was risk to the sails and to anyone on the exterior of the hull, even in a rigging suit.


          Perhaps more to the point, until the burst of plasma dissipated, the Sister Kate could not escape into the Matrix. In order to insert, a starship’s surface charge had to be in perfect balance, which couldn’t be achieved while loose ions were dancing on the skin and rigging.


          The freighter’s captain had yelped, complained, and transmitted bills of lading which indicated his cargo was tenth-megawatt fusion generators being carried to Cremona. That was the point at which Adele had begun observing in real-time. The cruiser continued to approach the Sister Kate, ignoring all protests.


          “Mistress?” said Cory. “Two separate guns fired at the freighter–they don’t mount them in twin turrets like ours. Both bolts were centered, just perfect. That’s RCN quality shooting; better than that even, for most ships.”


          Adele was pleased to see that though Cory was using a private intercom channel, he had opened it to Cazelet as well. The officers were young males with all that implied to anyone with a grounding in biology, but they were also courteous professionals who appeared to like one another personally.


          Adele shrank the PPI to an inset and used the bulk of the display for her own search. The two officers continued to watch the capture of the freighter, but that–though dramatic–wasn’t important. The important thing to learn was how it came to be captured.


          The Sister Kate either was or was not a blockade runner carrying a load of contraband. The RCN neither enforced the blockade nor wished to circumvent it, so what was happening in orbit did not affect the Princess Cecile or her crew.


          Adele didn’t smile, but she felt a touch of pleasure at the situation. She had gone to the heart of the problem while Cory and Cazelet were both lost in trivial side paths. On the other hand, that meant that there had been a flaw in the training they had received from Officer Adele Mundy.


          Adele let the smile touch her lips after all. Their education wasn’t over; it wouldn’t be over till they died, if they were the men she hoped and believed they were. And neither was her own education.


          She found the signal at about the time she expected it to have been sent, thirty-one minutes before the Estremadura had left its distant station to appear in Madison orbit. It had been transmitted by laser from a civilian comsat, though Adele used the military constellation to locate it. A signal beamed 30 million miles out had to be tightly focused, so there wasn’t any difficultly tracking it back to the sending head and in turn identifying the feed from the ground.