WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 15:



            Daniel reduced thrust to 1.5 g and set the antennas to retract so that the Sissie could land, assuming things worked out. If everything went as it should, the process–sails furling, yards rotating parallel with the antennas, and all folding down against the hull–would be automatic.

            Even on a good day something jammed, though, and after Vesey's hard braking they'd be lucky if all four deployed antennas hadn't bent too badly to telescope. Woetjans was on the hull with her top people; they'd be able to clear problems even though the present deceleration was still significant.

            Whatever happened now, the Princess Cecile wouldn't be able to reenter the Matrix.

            "Princess Cecile, you're cleared through!" said an unfamiliar voice on Daniel's commo helmet. As usual, Adele was controlling access to him. She'd let this one pass, though, instead of handling it herself. "This is Delacroix Control, you're cleared through the array, out!"

            Borries clanged out two more missiles. Daniel had calculated the corvette's extraction so that they'd enter normal space on the opposite side of the planet from the Stein and in a reciprocal orbit. The ships would pass within three thousand miles of one another, well within the range that the cruiser's plasma cannon could be punishing. It was a necessary risk but a calculated one: if the Stein turned her guns on the corvette, the corvette's missiles would almost certainly destroy her.

            The cruiser's captain knew that as well as Daniel did. The 15-cm guns shifted from the Moorgate to the incoming missiles.

            The Stein's High Drive and plasma thrusters lit together at full output. Under normal circumstances that'd be a waste of reaction mass–the thrusters weren't nearly as efficient as matter/antimatter annihilation. The Alliance captain clearly realized that if the cruiser didn't get out of the kill zone as quickly as possible, that reaction mass would merely add to the size of the ball of wreckage expanding away from missile impacts.

            The 15-cm guns were firing at high rate, spewing plasma bolts before the barrels had properly cooled from the previous rounds. This was certain to erode the tubes and might well lead to an explosion that damaged the turret, but need outweighed the risk.

            The corvette's first missile burst before burnout; the second had just begun to separate into three pieces, widening the attack's footprint, when the guns caught them. Solid fragments caromed away, driven by the thrust of their vaporized mass.

            The Sissie sliced past the minefield in a descending spiral; the mine-tenders were already diving for the surface. Borries launched a third pair of missiles.

            "Cease fire!" Daniel ordered, his hands busy adjusting the High Drive, swinging the corvette's bow down slightly so that they'd enter the atmosphere on an even keel. "Borries, this is Six, cease fire!"

            The Stein staggered as a mast snapped and carried away other rigging with it. The thrusters shut down, leaving a broad track of shimmering ions behind the glint of the High Drive exhaust.

            Daniel hadn't been sure how the sloops would react–he hadn't attacked or even threatened them–but he was gratified to see they were accelerating away from the planet also. That wasn't cowardice: an Alliance corvette never would've attacked four RCN vessels. The sloops' captains assumed that the Sissie was the leading vessel of a powerful force.

            The Sissie's third pair of missiles were going to miss because the cruiser'd reduced acceleration abruptly, but the guns hammered them anyway. The sloops were already losing definition, fading into the Matrix; they weren't going anywhere, just away so that they wouldn't be caught when a large RCN squadron extracted. A moment later the Stein followed, sure that further missiles couldn't reach it before insertion was complete.

            Contact between vessels, let alone combat, was possible only in sidereal space. A ship that escaped into the Matrix–it was extremely vulnerable during the minute or so of insertion–could lurk there until its air ran out. The Alliance ships might struggle toward Z3 using dead reckoning from their last recorded star sights or simply hide for a day or so before slipping briefly into the human universe to make proper astrogational computations. Either way, they were out of action.

            The outer airlock clanged; Woetjans was bringing in her crew, so the rig'd been stowed for landing. Daniel'd have had to adjust the Sissie's angle of descent shortly if they hadn't come in, and he hadn't been thinking about it.

            He felt himself relax. He hadn't been thinking about landing formalities either, and it was past time that he do so. "Signals–" he began.

            "Princess Cecile, this is Port Delacroix Control," said an unfamiliar female voice. "You are cleared for Berth 17 in the Outer Harbor, not 12 in Main as you were told before. We're bringing the Moorgate in there because she can't maneuver to her regular berth, over."

            "Delacroix Control, this is Princess Cecile," said Daniel. He should've known he didn't have to worry about communications chores when he had a battle to fight. "Acknowledged that we're clear for Berth 17, Outer Harbor. Over."

            There was a pause. The corvette slid deeper into the atmosphere which began to buffet her seriously. A starship wasn't streamlined even when closed down for landing, so the rig had to be built to take a battering. The crew got used to it perforce.

            Instead of, "Acknowledged, out," as Daniel expected, the ground controller said, "The Admiral says, 'Well done, Princess Cecile, ' and will Captain Leary please attend him in the Residence at his earliest convenience. A car will be waiting, over."

            "Acknowledged," Daniel said, feeling a smile spread across his face. "Princess Cecile out."

            Hogg, who'd been sitting on the jump seat attached to the back of the command console, got up and started toward the hatch. The Sissie was pitching like a skiff in a storm, but he kept walking. Hogg had ridden many skiffs in many storms.

            "Guess I'll lay out your Whites, master," he called over back the wind roar.

            Daniel smiled even more broadly.