WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 13:



CHAPTER 6: Above Diamondia


            "Help me out of this thing!" Adele said even before the inner hatch was fully open. She didn't mind wearing the airsuit at her console–it'd be uncomfortable, but personal comfort had never concerned her. That the suit kept her from getting at her data unit–and why hadn't she left it behind when she went onto the hull?–was another matter.

            She needn't have spoken: Tovera, Cazelet, and Cory–who'd stripped off his gauntlets in the airlock–were already at work on her catches.

            "Mistress, I'm going to lift you," Cory said–and did so, tilting her back as though she were sitting at her console. When Adele's feet came off the floor, Tovera tugged down the lower half of the suit; Cory shifted and Rene pulled the remainder from her torso.

            They worked well as a team. The midshipman was well experienced with suits and Tovera could be expected to accomplish any physical task efficiently, but Adele had just learned something important about Cazelet.

            She smiled as she settled onto her console. How nice that what she'd learned was positive. It wasn't always that way.

            Daniel was absorbed in computations, and Sun in the console adjacent to hers was rotating the turrets to make sure the guns were ready. Rather than ask either of them what was going on, Adele echoed the command display onto her own. In truth, even when the person talking to her was a friend whom she trusted implicitly, she felt more  comfortable with electronic data than she did spoken words.

            The astrogation display was gibberish, but Daniel had inset the Plot-Position Indicator; that showed illuminated beads maneuvering at the edge of the minefield protecting Diamondia. The three red beads were careted with the names of RCN vessels, the Aldgate, Ludgate, and Moorgate. The names meant nothing to Adele and there wasn't time just now to call up full particulars.

            The four blue pips weren't careted, which meant they'd turned off their IFF. Adele sniffed as her wands moved. As usual she'd slaved her console to her personal data unit, but that was just for comfort: she was adequately quick with any input device. A dumb machine might not be able to identify an uncooperative target at a light-hour's distance, but she was Adele Mundy.

            If the ships had been closer, she'd have pinged the message drones that all but the very smallest vessels carried. A careful officer could disable that automatic facility, but with the exception of Adele herself she'd never seen anyone bother. Most captains didn't seem to know it existed.

            That wasn't an answer for the present, since the signal and reply would take two hours. She'd make do with passive intelligence, the electronic signatures of the vessels themselves.

            Adele grimaced as her wands sorted and compared. If she hadn't been in such a hurry to question Cory out of others' hearing, she'd have done a full-spectrum search as soon as the Sissie extracted into sidereal space. What'd taken Daniel fifteen minutes to notice would've been obvious to her immediately.

            Still, she'd spent the fifteen minutes usefully. If Cory'd given the wrong answers, she or Tovera would've had to deal with the problem. A corvette on a mission of this sort couldn't afford an officer whose tongue could be bought. Grounding Cory on Diamondia might've been an adequate solution, but that risked leaving the problem for someone less prepared for it. Adele was glad not to have gone down that road.

            A starship is a living community with the need to maintain its environment besides all the requirements of a ground-based military post. Each type of electric motor–and there were hundreds on even a small ship–has a unique frequency. To an analyst with a collection of templates and the skill to isolate one source at a time from an electronic hash, the cumulative symphony was as sure an identifier as close-range visuals.

            Adele's fingers twitched and twitched again, cross-checking data before transmitting them to the command console. The Cora, the Inca, the Cazique

            And finally the large vessel, the Stein. Its volume of signatures slowed identification, though in the long run it was absolutely certain.

            Daniel didn't turn or reply, but his image grinned in satisfaction when the data flashed onto his display. He brought up an attack board and selected one of the four plans already prepared, then announced, "Ship, there's an engagement going on above Diamondia, three Alliance sloops backed by a light cruiser going after some mine-tenders from Admiral James' squadron. That doesn't seem like fair odds to me, so we're going to take a hand. Prepare to insert in thirty, that's three-zero, seconds."

            His fingers slammed down on the Execute button. "Break," he continued, now looking at Adele's icon on his display. "Mundy, I want you to signal the friendlies as soon as we extract, telling them who we are and requesting passage. I'm not worried about them popping at us with whatever they've got for guns, but our course'll take us into the planetary defense array very quickly. Can you handle that while I'm busy with the attack board? Over."

            "Yes, Daniel," Adele said, preparing her gear. That wasn't proper protocol, but she'd apologize when she had time.

            Normally she'd rely on laser communicators, one emitter to each of the RCN vessels, but under the circumstances she'd better double the message with tight-beam microwave. It didn't sound as though there was any margin for error, and any ship could have part of its communications suite fail.

            Adele smiled coldly. It wouldn't bother her to die–indeed, if they triggered a nuclear mine, she probably wouldn't even be aware of it. But in the unlikely event that there was an afterlife, she'd be in certain Hell to realize that she'd been sloppy in performing her last task.

            She was still smiling when a voice shouted, "Up RCN!" The Princess Cecile returned to the Matrix as the first stage in its attack run.