The Road Of Danger – Snippet 56


          “–we don’t have much way on, so we’re not going anywhere in particular. We’ll extract and accelerate for a while; then you can get your exercise.”


          “Suits me, Chief,” Hargate said, giving Daniel the first smile he had seen on the man’s face. “This suit–“


          He clacked his gauntleted fingers against the stiffened chest plate.


          “–lacks about two inches of what it ought to have for height, and with the helmet locked down I feel like somebody’s trying to pound me through the deck.”


          “I see,” said Daniel. “When we hit ground on Cremona, I’ll see if we can’t promote a hard suit that fits you a little better.”


          Hogg could probably arrange something. Quite apart from common decency–hard suits of the wrong size were miserably uncomfortable–he didn’t want the ship’s safety to depend on a rigger whose suit hobbled him when he needed to move fast.


          Daniel returned to his display. The equipment on the hull was hydro-mechanical; electric current would have generated magnetic fields. They could randomly and sometimes enormously affect the sails’ resistance to the Casimir radiation which shifted a vessel through the Matrix. In a well-found modern vessel the hydraulic input was converted to electricity within the hull and appeared as readouts on the console.


          The Savoy had instead four pointers above the airlock. Three were vertical; the fourth–the starboard antenna–was at ninety degrees, indicating that the antenna had only partially extended.


          Daniel grinned. A jam at this point didn’t matter, as he had told the riggers. More to the point, he had no reason to believe that the gauges were working properly either.


          “Preparing to extract,” he said. One real benefit of a small vessel was that insertion and extraction were relatively simple procedures. An 80,000 ton battleship might be five minutes completing either operation, even with a crack crew.


          Daniel pulled the sliding control toward him, saying, “Extracting!”


          Ice water trickled inward from each finger and toe, meeting in the center of Daniel’s chest for one freezing moment; then the extraction was over. The yawl had reemerged in the sidereal universe and all her external sensors were live again.


          Daniel had set his display to a naval-style Plot-Position Indicator simply out of habit. The Savoy‘s console was old, but it had originally come from a warship–certainly Pantellarian, and probably a destroyer.


          He lighted the High Drive as soon as a quick glance showed that the Savoy was still headed outward. His quick in-and-out of the Matrix could have reversed the ship’s  attitude in normal space, and they were close enough above Madison that diving toward the surface could have serious consequences.


          The second order of business was to locate the Estremadura. With luck, the cruiser had extracted half a million miles away or even farther. That would give the Savoy plenty of time to build up speed before Daniel had to take her into the Matrix again.


          The Estremadura wasn’t visible on the PPI, which meant she was still in the Matrix. Since the Savoy‘s console was a naval unit, it would have shown the cruiser on a predicted course even if she were momentarily behind the planet from the yawl’s vantage point. Daniel had deliberately allowed plenty of time for his opponent to extract from her initial jump toward Madison.


          Are they completely incompetent? That could certainly happen, but it wasn’t a safe assumption to make about an untested opponent.


          Speaking of untested, the yawl’s two High Drive motors were buzzing in nearly perfect synchrony, making the vibration in so small a ship not only unpleasant but potentially dangerous. When there was time–which there certainly wasn’t now–Daniel would adjust the units to syncopate one another with their pulses. Their present output created harmonics which could fracture electronics and might very well crystallize metal if it went on for long enough.


          Daniel wondered if Petrov had deliberately aligned the motors’ phases in some mad quest of a perfection that actually degraded performance. The gods alone knew what naval officers were taught on Novy Sverdlovsk!


          The PPI highlighted the precursor effects of a ship extracting from the Matrix about 19,000 miles from the Savoy‘s present location, some three light-seconds outsystem from Madison. That could be chance, but even if it were chance–


          “Prepare to insert!” Daniel said as he slammed the paired High Drive feeds shut.  The yawl wouldn’t be able to insert until they’d coasted beyond the haze of anti-matter atoms finding atoms of terrene matter with which to immolate themselves, but she was far enough out now that her surroundings were hard vacuum.


          “Sir?” said one of the crewmen on a rising note. “Sir? What’s going on?”


          Lindstrom wasn’t speaking this time, but she’d gotten from her bunk and was hovering–literally, they were in free fall–beside the console, maneuvering expertly by taps on the bulkheads. Daniel couldn’t blame the others for wondering what was going on, but it certainly wasn’t helpful.


          “Inserting!” Daniel said.


          He didn’t notice the transition this time because his mind was wholly focused on his display. He got a momentary glimpse of the ship which had returned to the sidereal universe just as the Savoy was leaving it. As he had feared, it was the Estremadura.


          And when his console enhanced and enlarged the image, Daniel could see that the cruisers’ guns had been aligned to bear on the yawl.