WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 18:



CHAPTER 8: Port Delacroix, Diamondia


            Daniel kept a real-time exterior panorama running at the top of his display as he readied the Princess Cecile for liftoff. It didn't seem to him that the sky was brighter than it'd been a few minutes before, but now the water of the harbor shimmered in pale reflection.

            "Six, this is Three," announced Pasternak on the command channel. "We're ready to light thrusters, over."

            Daniel glanced at his holographic display. The Power Room readouts and the PPI shared the body of the tank, with an astrogational screen scrunched up below. He'd expand that last as soon as they made orbit and it had immediate bearing on his actions.

            He keyed a two-way link, beyond the ability of anybody else on the Sissie to hear, and said, "Adele, when can we lift?"

            "In two minutes, fifty… three seconds, Daniel," Adele said calmly. "After that we have a window of ninety-two minutes if you wish to wait."

            "Roger," Daniel said, realizing that she wasn't going to close her transmission. "Thank you, Adele. Break, Pasternak? You can start lighting them in thirty seconds, over."

            "Roger, Three out," muttered Pasternak as he broke the connection.

            On the PPI the destroyers Echo and Encounter patrolled at the edge of the planetary defense array. They couldn't stop a major attack, but they kept the Alliance minesweepers at a distance from the array. The sweepers had the laborious task of slinging metallic junk toward the nuclear mines using electromagnetic charges; generally the projectors'd been modified from automatic impellers. Eventually a pellet would hit and neutralize the target; then the clearance vessel moved on to the next.

            It was a dangerous job, too. Mines could be set at greater than the usual sensitivity so that they'd go off when a target was as much as a hundred thousand miles away. Though focused, the jet of X-rays wouldn't be dangerous even to a corvette at that range, but a mine-clearance vessel, basically a lifeboat, would crumple into lifeless, drifting slag.

            Thrusters One and Eight lighted, licking glittering plumes of steam from the harbor. The Governor's Residence wasn't directly visible from the Sissie's berth, but Daniel wondered whether Admiral James was watching remote imagery of the liftoff. No reason he should, of course….

            Daniel didn't know how Adele'd determined when the Princess Cecile should lift, but he assumed she'd based the determination on enemy commo traffic. The Alliance patrolled in the vicinity of Diamondia on a regular basis. Usually that involved a squadron of four cruisers and accompanying destroyers passing close to the minefield to chase any RCN ships in orbit back to harbor.

            Two and Seven lighted. Though their nozzles were flared, the iridescent blooms beating the harbor set the corvette to rocking.

            Occasionally Alliance capital ships would join the sweep in hopes that Admiral James would sally expecting cruisers and face battleships instead. Guphill's forces played it too safe to fool anybody, though. The battleships and battlecruisers doubled the usual hundred and fifty-thousand kilometer safety cordon out from the minefield that their lighter vessels maintained.

            Admiral James wasn't likely to come up to fight anyway, however much he and his spacers wished to. The attrition of frequent skirmishes between the screening forces would leave James without the missiles necessary to fight the fleet action that'd certainly come.

            Thrusters Three and Four lighted. The Power Room display told Daniel what was happening, but he thought he could tell by the vibration alone. Each of the pumps feeding reaction mass to the thrusters had a slightly different rhythm. The Princess Cecile was as much part of Daniel Leary as his liver was.

            Daniel expanded the astrogation display briefly. It was only seven days by Navy House charts from Diamondia to Pelosi, the capital of the Independent Republic of Bagaria; he thought that with him conning the Sissie they could shave a day off that.

            It was only seven days from Diamondia to Pleasaunce as well. The Jewel System was at a node between bubble universes. Voyages staging through it were considerably shorter than other routes between many common destinations–most of which were in Alliance territory. The presence of Diamondia, a world providing a first-class harbor and amenities to travellers, in Cinnabar hands was a both a practical obstacle and a gross insult to Guarantor Porra and his government.

            Its main importance to Cinnabar was as a point from which to attack the Alliance. From the RCN's viewpoint that was extremely important, but not so critical that additional resources could be diverted from sectors where the Republic's survival was threatened.

            "Six, this is Three," Pasternak reported. "All thrusters are lighted and operating within parameters. Operating at high efficiency if I may say so, out."

            "Roger, Three," Daniel said. "Break, Signals, are we cleared for liftoff, over?"

            "Princess Cecile, this is Delacroix Control," said the same female voice which'd cleared them in. Had Adele held the transmission or was the timing just fortunate? "You are cleared for liftoff, over."

             "Roger, Delacroix Control," said Daniel. "Sissie out. Break, Ship, prepare to lift in thirty, say again three-zero seconds. Six out."

            He ran up the throttles, feeding reaction mass to the thrusters. For the moment he didn't sphincter down the nozzle petals for maximum efficiency.

            He grinned and continued on the general push, "Ship, this is Six. I don't know what we're going to find in the Bagarian Cluster, but I do know anybody with ideas we don't go along with is going to find a lot more than they expected! Up Cinnabar!"

            Responding cheers rang a descant to the roar of the Sissie lifting from the surface of another planet.


Above Diamondia


            The plasma thrusters shut off and Adele's body lifted against the restraints. The console's upholstery expanded now that acceleration didn't ram her body into it. A moment later the High Drive coughed into life, returning the Sissies to the equivalent of normal gravity.

            "Commander Leary always allows a slight gap when he switches propulsion modes, Cazelet," Adele said on the link she'd set up with the man at the jumpseat on the rear of her console. "That way a late surge from the one he's shutting down doesn't double the strain on the ship needlessly."

            She winced as she heard herself. Adele knew she had a tendency to be pedantic, but this was absurd. And why was she bragging about her knowledge of shipboard life to this boy?

            He wasn't really a boy. At 24, Cazelet was older than Daniel had been when they met on Kostroma.

            "I'd wondered," Cazelet said, "because Captain Leary is clearly skillful enough to match the commands more closely than he chose to do. I hadn't thought about the possibility of mechanical failure."

            He cleared his throat. Adele had a miniature of Cazelet's face on the bottom of her display; his brow furrowed as his mind worked with a question.

            "Ah, Lady Mundy, I don't mean to be forward…," he said. "But I'd be much more comfortable if you called me Rene. It wouldn't be a breach of naval discipline because I'm not a member of the RCN. Ah…. But of course whatever you prefer is fine with me. Over."

            Adele started to speak, then closed her mouth. She didn't know how she felt about the request.

            She snorted. She'd noticed that lawyers, when asked questions which didn't have clear answers, always said, "No." That gave her a course of action in her own similar circumstances.

            "All right, Rene," she said. "Now that the thrusters aren't spreading static across the whole RF spectrum, I'll show you how to identify the ships in the Alliance squadron."

            She pursed her lips. "And you'd best call me Mundy," she added. "I'm not Lady Mundy in my own mind–or many other people's, I'm confident. Ah, or Adele, I suppose. Though generally only Daniel calls me that. In private."

            "Thank you," Cazelet said. "Ah, since we're on a private channel–thank you, Adele."

            "Yes," said Adele, working to keep her mind as neutral as the syllable. "I'm giving you control of the display, now."

            She didn't, of course; she'd merely enabled the Training facility to allow Rene temporary access until she made an input herself. The jumpseat positions were intended to train ordinary spacers striking for a specialist rating and, secondarily, as backup in case something happened to the assigned officer. Ordinarily the rear controls were locked whenever the console proper was occupied.