WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 16:



CHAPTER 7: Port Delacroix on Diamondia


            The terraces of the Governor's Residence overlooked the Inner Harbor of Port Delacroix. Just as Admiral James was now occupying the Residence, the RCN squadron had displaced civilian shipping. The Zeno and the ancient Lao-tze were moored bow-in on opposite sides of the pool. Between the two battleships floated the heavy cruiser Alcubiere, the light cruiser Antigone, and four destroyers; two more destroyers were in orbit.

            "Doesn't seem like much to oppose what the Alliance's got on Z3, does it, Leary?" said Admiral James. He touched the decanter between them. "More whiskey?"

            "Thank you, sir," Daniel said, sliding his glass over. "A splash, if you would."

            That gave him time to consider how to respond… which didn't change the facts, unfortunately. Daniel smiled wryly: he generally fell back on the truth when he wasn't sure what to say. At least that way he didn't have to remember what story he'd told whom.

            "And no, it isn't very much," he said, "but I don't imagine that a base on the moon of a gas giant is safe, let alone comfortable. So long as we hold out, there's the chance of luck turning our way. There've been cases where ships fell into a crevasse on an ice moon before, I recall."

            James snorted as he lowered the decanter with a clack. The tabletop was made from scraps of fire opal, crushed and reconstituted in a bed of clear resin. Daniel had never thought of himself as an art fancier, but it struck him he'd seen whores on the strip outside Harbor Three dressed in better taste than this table.

            His face must've shown how he felt, because James chuckled and said, "Governor Niven left his furnishings behind when he offered me the Residence and moved to his hunting lodge in the mountains. I may be doing him an injustice to remark that the lodge isn't as likely to be bombarded if things go wrong. On the other hand–"

            He rang a fingertip on the decanter.

            "–he didn't take time to pack his liquor cabinet."

            The Admiral gave Daniel a wan smile. He was a distinguished looking man who wore his silvery hair longer than RCN regulations would've permitted in anyone of lesser rank. He lifted his glass against the clear sky to view the tawny liquor, then said, "I'm afraid I've been punishing it pretty badly, though, trying to figure out how to deal with Admiral Guphill's four capital ships. I'd say that two of them were only battlecruisers, but–"

            The smile took on hard edges.

            "–they're new, and either of them carries more missiles than the Lao-tze as well as being able to sail rings around her. And Leary? Thank you for the hope, but I'd already checked on the likelihood of the Alliance base sinking to the core of Z3. The only cases of that happening involve much larger primaries or satellites closer to the surface. I'm afraid we'll have to figure out a way to beat them ourselves."

            In the harbor, sirens, whistles, and–from the Lao-tze–what must've been a brass gong sounded, not quite simultaneously. Daniel lifted an eyebrow.

            "Local noon," James said with a chuckle. "The mayor, the Kaid they call him here, told me it was the custom from ships in the harbor to call noon. I saw no reason to object. The populace is being very supportive; more than the governor's staff, to be honest."

            Then, sharply: "Are you religious, Leary? Do you pray?"

            Daniel cleared his throat. "Ah," he said. "I'm not a freethinker, sir. But, well, with an officer's duties, I don't go to the temple as often as I might."

            There were admirals who had the reputation of being priests in uniform, but Daniel hadn't heard that about James. May the gods help the Republic if the leader of Diamondia's defense had suddenly put his faith in heaven instead of the RCN!

            "Good man," said James unexpectedly. "I never trust a young officer who doesn't spend more time with a bottle than he does with a prayer book. More whiskey?"
            Daniel looked at his glass. A steward in black and white–Daniel didn't know if he was RCN or part of the governor's legacy like the liquor cabinet–stood silently beside the sliding doors back into the Residence. He hadn't moved since bringing out the decanter.

            "Thank you, sir," Daniel said, sliding his glass over again. "Ah, Admiral? We expended six missiles on the way in, as you know?"

            "I do know," said James, filling his own glass also. The decanter was getting low. "I do indeed. A brilliant little action, Leary; in the best traditions of the RCN."

            "Thank you, sir," Daniel repeated. "To whom do I apply to replenish our magazines? Since we're not, the Sissie's not I mean, part of the Diamondia Squadron?"

            "You can save your breath, I'm afraid," the admiral said. He leaned back in his chair and sipped his drink. James was wearing Whites without medals or ribbons; from a distance he might've passed for a well-born gentleman in summer linens. "Leary, the only replenishment we've had since the squadron arrived on Diamondia has been blockade runners carrying mines, and few enough of those; seventeen small ships with forty-one mines aboard. The Alliance has already swept more than a hundred."

            He set his glass down, empty again. His eyes were turned toward the harbor, but whatever he was seeing in his mind was much farther away than that.

            "Leary," he said. "I'm not going to attach your ship to my squadron, though it'd be useful and you'd be bloody useful from what I saw this morning."

            "Sir!" said Daniel, more sharply than he'd intended. "I'm afraid my mission from the Navy Office has precedence–"

            "Do you think I care about Navy House here, Leary?" the admiral said. "Should I be afraid that Admiral Vocaine is going to slap my wrist? I've got four Alliance capital ships to do that!"

            He lurched halfway to his feet, then fell back onto his chair. Its seat of reconstituted opal was set in a wrought iron frame like the tabletop; the feet scraped on the patio tile.

            "I shouldn't have drunk so much," James said mildly, musing on his empty glass. "Or I should drink more, of course. Well, I can't change the past, can I?"

            He lifted the decanter, then paused. "More for you, Leary?" he asked.

            "Go ahead and finish it, sir," Daniel said. "I've got a busy day ahead if we're to lift at dawn. Ah, as I intend."

            "There's more where this comes from," James muttered vaguely, but when he set down the empty decanter he didn't call for a replacement. He sipped morosely, then looked across the table at Daniel.

            "The reason I'm not holding you on Diamondia, Leary," he said, "isn't that I'm afraid of what it'd do to my career. I've never concerned myself much with that. I'm James of Kithran no matter what Navy House says."

            Which is why you have a career that's the envy of most other officers of your rank, sir, Daniel thought; but this wasn't the time for him to speak, even in praise.

            "In a few months," James continued, "the Alliance will clear a path through the defense array. Admiral Guphill will launch an attack on the planet, and I'll lead my squadron out to engage him. They'll know they've been in a fight!"

            "Yes sir," Daniel murmured, meeting the admiral's fierce gaze.

            "But there's not the slightest chance that we'll be able to stop them," James said. "I know that as well as Guphill does; and you know it too, Leary."

            Daniel didn't speak. Of course I know it. Guphill is competent, and he's got twice the strength of ships crewed with the best personnel in the Fleet.

            James set his glass down; he hadn't emptied it. "You did my squadron a favor when you came in," he said. "And you're a good officer, the sort the RCN needs. I'm not going to tangle you to no purpose in this mare's nest. You go off on your special mission and keep well clear. All I ask you is this, if you've got the backbone."

            He pointed his right index finger at Daniel's chest. "When you next see Eldridge Vocaine, say that I asked you to tell him that if he'd been doing his job, he'd have sent another battleship instead of a corvette; and that if he had, the Battle off Diamondia would've had a different ending. Do you understand?"

            Daniel rose to his feet. "Sir, I understand," he said. "And I have the backbone, yes. But I hope it won't be necessary to deliver that message."

            "Go back to your duties, Leary," Admiral James said. He suddenly laughed. "I was young once too. But you go back and make the RCN proud of you."

            The admiral tossed off the rest of his whiskey. As Daniel turned he thought James had started to smile.