The Road Of Danger – Snippet 65


          He slapped Edmonson’s hand away. He didn’t bother to bellow, “Keep away from the bloody board when I’m on it!” because Hogg had already caught the spacer’s wrist and twisted it up behind his back to move him away from the young master.


          “Wait for it, all of you,” Daniel said pleasantly.


          The gunboats were on courses that would eventually converge with the Ella 919. The Savoy had extracted dead astern of the other blockade runner, but on a reciprocal; she was headed directly toward the Alliance ships. Daniel grinned tightly. That had been a very neat piece of maneuvering, if he did say so himself.


          The Flink, then no more than a heartbeat later the Tapfer, rotated to bring their ventral surfaces–with the High Drives and plasma thrusters–in line with their present course. Both gunboat captains were reacting identically to the information, though they hadn’t had enough time to coordinate their maneuvers. The Ella was a probable capture; the just-appeared Savoy was a certainty if they could brake to come aboard her.


          “Inserting…,” Daniel said, “now!


          He pressed Execute. The Flink‘s captain must have understood what was happening, because the gunboat began firing. The range was too great for anything less than a heavy cruiser’s 15-centimeter cannons to be effective.


          The last thing Daniel noticed on his display was that the Ella 919 had shut down her High Drives as she prepared to insert. “Good luck, Tommines,” he said under his breath. “But you’re on your own now.”


          Transition from the sidereal universe froze Daniel’s spine into a column of ice. The sensation spread outward along his nerve endings, then passed. The Savoy was safe within the Matrix.


          “What did you do there, Pensett?” Lindstrom said in the calm which immediately followed their insertion. She didn’t sound angry or frightened, just… intrigued would be the best word, Daniel decided. “I don’t pretend to be an astrogator, but I know you did something.”


          “I thought he’d killed us,” muttered Edmonson. Hogg continued to glower in warning at the fellow though he had released him after walking him back to the bunk tier.


          The spacer looked at Daniel and said, “I did, sir, I thought you’d screwed up and they’d catch us sure, then put us out the lock without suits. I’m sorry, but I’m still not sure how you did it.”


          “It was a matter of timing,” Daniel said. Speaking of which, he needed to keep an eye on the process clock still running. There was plenty of time available for a full explanation, though. “We didn’t–“


          Meaning “I didn’t,” but there was no advantage in rubbing the others’ noses in the fact that they were completely under his control.


          “–dare chance anything that involved a rigging change, because that could stick. But we knew what the present conditions in the Matrix were because we’d just extracted, right? A timed in-and-out–and in again, of course–would put us anywhere we wanted to be in the Sunbright system with just using our current sail plan. As we did, to the benefit of Ella 919.”


          He grinned at Lindstrom, then at the gaping spacers. She simply accepted what Daniel said at face value, but the crewmen had learned enough misinformation in the past to think what they had just heard was impossible.


          “You can ask Captain Tommines to buy you all drinks the next time you see him,” Daniel added. “Actually, I suspect he’ll volunteer to do that without you asking.”


          It really had been as simple as he’d described it being, but an astrogation computer by itself couldn’t have planned the maneuver: what the Savoy had done wasn’t within the parameters loaded into the unit. Someone who knew his way around the software, however, could exceed the preset options by orders of magnitude.


          Spacers crewing small craft here in the Macotta region–or even in the heart of Cinnabar territory, like as not–would never have met an officer who really knew how to wring out the best of his computer. That led to the common human mistake of believing that because you’d never seen something done, it therefore couldn’t be done.


          “They’re going to be laying for us when we extract,” said Edmonson darkly. “It’s not just the Ella got away, it’s you made monkeys out of ’em with all this school-trained nonsense. I shouldn’t wonder they brought up the whole gunboat squadron and we’ll play hell trying to get down!”


          Daniel smiled at the spacer. That was the ill-tempered bitchiness of a poseur who now couldn’t even convince himself that he was good as Daniel. That Edmonson had ever imagined otherwise was proof in itself that he lived in a fantasy world.


          But bitchy or not, the point was valid.


          “I don’t think there’ll be a problem,” said Daniel mildly. “We’ll extract quite close in above the planet in a little under a minute.”


          In forty-three seconds from the word “minute,” to be precise.


          “The Alliance forces won’t have time to react, and I very much doubt that either of those gunboats would be willing to transit to within seventy-five miles of the surface anyway.”


          Edmonson opened his mouth as though to speak, then closed it. West, in a tone of puzzlement rather than objection, said, “Sir, can you do that? I mean, I’d always heard….”


          “If we didn’t have an excellent console here,” Daniel said, patting the unit as he spoke, “and if I hadn’t had plenty of time to judge the Matrix, it’d be risky operating so close to a gravity well, yes.”


          And also if he hadn’t put the Savoy in a situation where the risk of not cutting a few corners was greater than that of a close approach through the Matrix.


          “As it is, we’ll be fine,” he concluded, beaming at his companions.


          He returned to the display. Raising his voice, he said, “Hargate and Blemberg, you’d best get onto the hull as soon as we extract. We’ll need to get the rig in for a very fast landing at Kotzebue. Anything that sticks and you can’t manhandle into place is going to come off in the stratosphere.”


          The third clock reached zero. “Extracting!” Daniel called.