The Road Of Danger – Snippet 54


CHAPTER 15: Ashetown on Madison


          Adele, seated at the Battle Direction Center console she had appropriated, watched imagery of the Savoy lifting off. Exhaust curling upward from the plasma thrusters curtained the blockade runner, though the ship was generally visible as something between a shadow and a lumpy cylindrical shape. It was thirty-seven minutes after Principal Hrynko had warned Kirby Pensett that his ship might be seized.


          I wondered whether–I doubted whether–Daniel was correct in believing that he could get away in an hour. I’ll apologize when we’re next together.


          The BDC was an armored box of irregular shape, designed to protect the equipment and personnel within to the greatest degree possible. As with the Power Room, there were no piercings to weaken its structure save for the hatch onto the corridor.


          Cory and Cazelet had gone to the wardroom, just forward of the Battle Direction Center on the starboard side. That compartment had an external hatch from which the two officers were watching Daniel lift off. They wore RCN goggles whose lenses would filter the dangerous actinics and could magnify the image if they chose to.


          Adele considered the situation with part of her mind. Cory and Cazelet were spacers. They used holographic displays constantly and with great skill, but they were even more at home on the hull of a ship in the Matrix–directly viewing not just stars but the very cosmos in its majesty.


          Adele was a librarian. Given the option, she preferred to observe her surroundings through an electronic interface. The male officers were doing the same thing–their goggles were as surely electronic as the console at which Adele sat–but they were subconsciously counterfeiting direct observation.


          A smile almost reached her lips. Cory and Cazelet were her students, but she had not turned them into her clones. For that, the RCN–and their RCN careers–could be thankful.


          Nor was either of them a particularly good shot. They should be thankful for that.


          Another alert throbbed on her sidebar. She opened it as text, though she kept Daniel’s lift-off as background to the message.


          The signal was from Forty Stars HQ to the Estremadura in distant orbit, but it was routed through Platt’s station as a cut-out to protect the identity of the initial sender. Though Platt and Commander Doerries were careful about communications security, Adele had retrieved their internal codes as part of her haul from Platt’s sanctum. She now could read the contents instead of just knowing that there had been a message.


          Doerries–whom she had identified with certainty from reviewing Platt’s records–was ordering the Estremadura not to disturb the Savoy. Adele had not yet determined what game–or games–Doerries was playing with the blockade runners, but he apparently had his reasons for wanting the Savoy to get through.


          That was all very well, since Adele very much wished Daniel to have a safe trip also. Unfortunately, because Adele had destroyed the retransmission station and killed its operator, the message was not going to reach the Estremadura.


          Dropping the clutter of the Savoy‘s lift-off from her display, Adele instructed one head of the Sissie‘s stern microwave cluster to lock onto the lurking cruiser–and froze. Doerries had placed this message at his highest security level. Instead of sending it through the planetary satellite network, it had to go by direct microwave link. The handshake between the systems was achieved through a pair of randomizing chips which were identical at the molecular level.


          I can’t duplicate the signature. The necessary chip in Platt’s station was irretrievable, even if it hadn’t cracked from heat stress during the short circuits.


          She would punish herself at leisure for her mistake–for her choice; it hadn’t been a mistake, because she had made the correct judgment under the circumstances. If the choice cost Daniel his life, she would punish herself till she died, and that day couldn’t come soon enough. For now, though, she had to mitigate the damage.


          Adele switched to the laser transmitter. It wasn’t ideal–there wasn’t a good way to communicate with a ship lifting off–but it was more practical to punch coherent light through the optical haze of the exhaust than it was to drive microwaves through the RF hash caused by the volume of ions changing state.


          “Savoy, this is Hrynko,” Adele said, her voice as dry as salt fish. “Respond at once; I repeat, respond at once, over!”




          “–at once, over!” Daniel’s commo helmet said in what he believed was Adele’s voice. The helmet eliminated static from the signal, but it could only fill in the holes with flat approximations of what the algorithm decided were the missing particles.


          “This is Savoy,” he said. The helmet wasn’t his personal unit from the Sissie–that had Six stencilled above the visor–but it was RCN standard. It wouldn’t strike anyone as unusual that a lieutenant dumped out on half pay would manage to liberate a commo helmet before he strode down the gangplank for the last time. “Go ahead, Hrynko, over.”


          Starships didn’t–couldn’t–accelerate very quickly. Not only were they underpowered for the purpose, accelerations more than 3 gees would torque the hull even of a warship and leave a trail of rigging in the wake as tubes sheared and clamps vibrated off.