The Road Of Danger – Snippet 62




CHAPTER 17: Above Sunbright




          “Extracting in five seconds…,” Daniel shouted. Everybody was in the cabin, but he wanted to be sure that Edmonson and Blemberg could hear him even though they were wearing the hard suits.




          He mashed the button with both thumbs, a habit dating back to his first real insertion on the training vessel Ganges. He had been worried that the execute button would stick–as every cable and antenna in the ancient battleship’s rigging seemed to–and was determined not to allow that to go wrong. “Extracting!”




          The Savoy dropped into normal space with a suddenness that took Daniel by surprise, even though he had experienced it before. There were advantages to a yawl even over a relatively small warship like the Princess Cecile… though how he wished he were back in the Sissie!




          The Savoy‘s sensors were rudimentary, but her warship-class console processed the data instantly. Daniel had set the sensitivity to equal that of Princess Cecile, though of course that meant there was a great deal of electronic speculation at the higher ranges. For his present purposes, that was acceptable.




          They were 350,000 miles out from Sunbright. Kiki Lindstrom, leaning over his shoulder, crowed, “That is Sunbright below! Brilliant, Pensett! Bloody brilliant!”




          Daniel grunted. The only thing that pleased him at the moment was that the owner had remembered not to clap his raw, bruised back, as he had tensed himself to receive. But in truth–




          It really was respectable astrogation to bring the Savoy this close to the intended location after five–almost five–days of dead reckoning from their most recent observations in normal space. He would expect to do better–very much better–in any proper warship, let alone in the Sissie with the crew he had picked and trained; but he was in a yawl with a minimal sail plan and a maximum of two riggers available at any one time. He should cut himself some slack.




          Daniel grinned. Not likely. Not even a suggestion that anything short of perfect was really acceptable.




          A yawl much like the Savoy was 100,000 miles out from the planet, accelerating on herHigh Drive. The slug on Daniel’s Plot-Position Indicator abbreviated her name to Ell which, when highlighted, expanded to Ella 919.




          “That’s Captain Tommines’ ship,” Lindstrom said, pushing uncomfortably closer to the display. “But I think he’s on shares with a trading house on Cremona. I own the Savoy free and clear.”




          She peered further at the display and added, “Bloody hell. They don’t have a prayer, do they?”




          Daniel had been weighing the same question. The blockade runner was being pursued by a pair of Alliancegunboats, the Flink and the Tapfer. They had her boxed and were closing in. If the Ella shut down her motors for long enough to balance charges and insert, one or both of the gunboats would close and bathe her in ions before she could enter the Matrix. If the Ella didn’t shut down, they would catch her before long anyway.




          Unless Captain Tommines was a complete fool and had lifted directly into the path of theAlliancepatrols, he had probably been a little careless and a little unlucky. In combat, either alone could be enough for a disaster.




          To confirm his suspicion, Daniel said, “Tommines is a regular on this run, then?”




          “I should say so!” Lindstrom said. “Why, he must have made it a dozen times! He’d have retired long since, I guess, but he gambles on dog races and he’s got no bloody luck.”




          “Tommy gambles on anything,” Hargate said; he shook his head. “I’ve seen him bet on which rain-drop was going to run down the window of the bar first–and give odds if nobody’d take him on at evens. But a good skipper.”




          “Not a prayer,” Lindstrom repeated sadly as the gunboats continued to near. Flecks of static across the RF spectrum indicated that they were beginning to fire with plasma cannon. If they were equipped with the 5-centimeter popguns which were all their frames and scantlings could bear, they still weren’t within range–even to prevent their target from inserting.




          The commander of the Alliancepatrol must have recognized the Ella and made his plans based on information from her previous runs. Most captains let their computers handle liftoffs and landings; the machine didn’t make mistakes and it corrected faster than most humans could if something went wrong–a thruster failed, or an antenna broke its lashings under acceleration and swung violently.




          But computers always provided the same solution to the same question. The gunboats could hang well out from the planet and, when the Ella lifted, insert on a course they had refined for a week or more, and then extract close enough to their target to trap her.




          Unless the Alliancecaptains were extremely good, they had still been lucky to pinch the Ella so closely, but some captains were very good. All spacers knew how much luck their trade involved.




          Daniel checked both his calculations. There were risks involved, but he took a risk every time he rolled out of his bunk.




          He grinned. Actually, he’d clouted himself a good one on the temple with the stanchion when he slid into his bunk the other day. It had stopped bleeding, but the lump was still there.




          “Inserting in five seconds,” Daniel said.




          What?/Why?/Roger…. He ignored the last and similar acceptances as surely as he did the protests from Lindstrom and from Edmonson, who fancied himself as an astrogator. Edmonson could just about push Execute after the console had calculated a course….




          “Inserting!” Daniel said. His guts flip-flopped, but because he hadn’t lighted theHigh Driveafter extracting, the process was as painless as it could be.




          Safely back in the Matrix, he turned to face his companions. He smiled and said, “I thought we’d give Tommines and his crew a helping hand. And maybe–”




          His smile spread.




          “–we’ll remind whoever’s commanding those gunboats that it’s not just the Fleet that teaches its officers to maneuver.”