WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 14:



            As the Sissie flickered out of the sidereal universe, Daniel took an instant to eye Borries's attack solutions. They were actually quite good, but they postulated that the Sissie might extract from the Matrix well in-planet from where Daniel proposed.

            That wasn't going to happen–or at any rate if it did, they wouldn't be launching any missiles. The Pellegrinian was allowing for Diamondia's atmosphere: it'd destroy a vessel trying to extract within it. He'd forgotten the planetary defense array that extended much farther up from the surface, however. It was hostile unless and until somebody directed its controller to let them through.

            Daniel felt the charge on the hull build as the corvette brought itself into equivalence with the sidereal universe. "Extracting in three-zero seconds!" Vesey announced from the BDC, but everybody in the veteran crew could feel it happening. It was an extremely short insertion, but the distance would've taken weeks to traverse in normal space.

            The Sissie seemed to shake herself. Daniel turned his eyes to the attack board, frozen into an approximation of the situation they'd find when they reappeared. The computer had extrapolated it from the course, rate and position of the vessels at the moment the corvette entered the Matrix and lost contact with the sidereal universe.

            The display showed their point of extraction and initial course as being what Daniel'd predicted they'd be. At less than sixty light-minutes decent astrogators–and Daniel was much better than that–could come very close to their intention, but it'd be fantasy to expect that missiles programmed before inserting into the Matrix would hit their target. He'd need to refine his solution after they extracted.

            The attack board flashed live; the approximation remained as a ghost image until Daniel switched it off. The PPI in a corner of the display sharpened from pearly radiance to a real three-dimensional chart; icons bloomed across the top of the screen as Adele connected with the RCN support vessels. She didn't copy her transmission to him since she knew he was busy.

            The High Drive slammed on, nearly trebling Daniel's weight. Vesey was decelerating at maximum output or very nearly so, delaying the corvette's entry into the minefield as much as possible. Though they'd made this last insertion on a minimal rig, four of the twenty-four mainsails and nothing above them, they were still going to lose yards if not antennas very shortly. The antennas might've been able to take it if he'd doubled the standing rigging, but there hadn't been time.

            First things first.

            The Alliance attack on the mine-tenders had required either skill or luck. If the cruiser and her escorts had maneuvered close to Diamondia in normal fashion, the RCN support vessels would've dropped back onto the surface before they were in danger. The attackers must've launched themselves from their base on Zmargadine Three in a single transit to Diamondia. An overshot would've put them in the minefield.

            It wouldn't be a coincidence that the sloops were twenty years old and the cruiser was older than that. The Alliance admiral clearly regarded them as expendable if necessary in the cause of harassing the RCN squadron.

            The cruiser's 15-cm guns would batter the mine-tenders to junk if they stayed in vacuum, and if they locked themselves into braking orbits to land they'd be sitting ducks for Alliance missiles.

            The process of returning to sidereal space normally took between forty-five seconds and a minute. An enemy keeping a close lookout for anomalies in the electromagnetic spectrum could initiate an attack before the extracting vessel was able to respond.

            The Alliance ships had no reason to expect they'd be attacked from the Matrix, nor was their training good enough that they were prepared for something they didn't expect. The cruiser's four 15-cm guns continued to track the Moorgate, firing whenever the tubes cooled enough to be reloaded, even after Daniel called, "Ship, launching two!"

            The Sissie rang from paired hammer-blows five seconds apart. Water, flash-heated to steam, ejected the missiles from the corvette's two launching tubes. Their High Drive motors lighted when they were safely clear of the vessel, spluttering back a blue haze of antimatter particles which hadn't been destroyed in the reaction chambers.

            Two more missiles rumbled down rollerways from the magazine to the tubes. "Borries, take over," Daniel shouted. "BDC, I have the conn, out!"

            He wanted to do it all. He couldn't and he didn't have to, he had first-rate officers, but there hadn't been time to explain exactly what he had in mind. In truth, all Daniel had in mind was to react to the situation as it appeared when they extracted from the Matrix–launch missiles, swing the corvette into a landing pattern, and evade the Alliance response.

            There still wasn't an Alliance response. My, we've really caught them with their pants down.

            The three Alliance sloops were in polar orbits around Diamondia, well outside the range of the mines. They weren't shooting because at this range their 10-cm plasma cannon wouldn't be effective even against 200-ton mine-tenders.

            The Stein was shadowing the Moorgate, slashing with 15-cm bolts. The mine-tender couldn't accelerate without rising into a higher orbit, nor could she decelerate without the atmosphere limiting her ability to maneuver. Plasma bolts would rupture the hull, probably sooner rather than later; whereupon the cruiser would transfer her attentions to the next of her victims.

            Destroying three auxiliaries wouldn't have much practical effect on the siege, but it'd raise the spirits of Alliance crews stuck in a dangerous hardship posting. Even better from the Alliance viewpoint, it'd depress Admiral James' personnel. It'd be suicide for the ships of the RCN squadron to try to reinforce the mine-tenders. Even a battleship lifting through the atmosphere would be unable to defend itself against missiles launched from orbit.