WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 20:



CHAPTER 9: Above Pelosi


            Adele was vaguely aware of the bustle as the Princess Cecile prepared to extract from the Matrix, but she continued to pore over information she'd winnowed from the files of Torregrossa Brothers. The less she thought about the details of star travel, the happier–the less unhappy–she was.

            "Extraction!" the intercom said enthusiastically. Adele felt her body turn inside-out as the light around her changed. The communications screen that she'd imbedded in the upper left quadrant of her display changed from a pearly blur to a web of color-coded traffic; she expanded it to the upper two-thirds of the total volume, shrinking everything else to a pair of bars across the bottom.

            "Ship, this is Five," said Lieutenant Vesey from the Battle Direction Center. "I'd like you all to know that Captain Leary conned us by dead reckoning from Diamondia to within 153,000 miles of the surface of Pelosi, without a single extraction to check his calculations. When you next go on liberty around Harbor Three, you tell people that. And tell them you're Sissies! Five out!"

            There were cheers,

            Vesey's learning people skills, Adele thought. She's always been a good astrogator, but now she's learning to lead. Learning from the best, of course.

            Adele concentrated on the message traffic and the ships on and around Pelosi.

Her wands flickered. There was so much…. Making an instant decision she said, "Midshipman Cory, take over the commo duties, I'm busy."

            That probably wasn't the right way to delegate, but she was very busy.

            "Roger, Signals," Cory said. His voice threatened to crack but settled down. "Navigation out."

            The Bagarian navy–the Naval Force of the Independent Republic of Bagaria–was in Morning Harbor on Pelosi, with the cruiser Sacred Independence orbiting the planet as a guard ship. At any rate the Independence was supposed to be on guard. Nobody aboard her appeared to be in the least concerned that a warship had just extracted in her immediate vicinity.

            Calling the Independence, a 5,000 ton freighter from the Cinnabar-Kostroma run, a warship was stretching a point as well. When the rebellion broke out, the rebel government bought and converted her by the addition of plasma cannon–six 4-inch guns and a pair of the 10-cm Alliance equivalents–and adapting two cargo holds to carry missiles. Her full capacity was ninety-six missiles, but there were only twenty-one in her magazines.

            That is, twenty-one missiles according to the manifest. Even without Master Torregrossa's warning, Adele had been on enough fringe planets to suspect the manifest might've been falsified to put money into a minister's pocket.

            "Signals, what's the status of the guard ship?" Daniel demanded, his voice taut. "I haven't received a challenge, over."

            "There's no challenge," Adele said as her fingers began to sort data from the ships in harbor below. "They're not on alert. A rating on the bridge noticed us appear, but the officer of the watch–who was sleeping–threatened to flog the fellow if he bothered him again."

            The largest ship in the excellent natural harbor–Morning City was built on a lake of 700,000 acres with a crenellated shoreline–was 6,000 tons, another long-haul freighter. It'd been bought on Elgato, where it was due to be scrapped, and had become the Generalissima DeMarce. Besides a claimed eleven missiles, it was armed with four 4-inch guns and a pair of 15-cm weapons.

            Adele sneered. These last would shake the DeMarce's rusty plates apart if they were ever fired. Adele had personal experience of what the recoil of heavy plasma cannon did to a freighter's frames, and in that case the ship had been strengthened to take the weapons.

            A number of small craft ranging from a hundred and fifty tons to nearly a thousand had been assigned to the Bagarian navy. None of them carried plasma cannon or missiles, though they probably mounted baskets of free-flight 8-inch rockets for protection against pirates… or for that matter, for piracy. At short range the rockets' high explosive heads could dismast a ship and shred its sails, leaving it helpless and easily boarded.

            Adele gathered particulars on the light craft, but optical examination was the only way to be sure of their armament and equipment. For that task her skills paled into insignificance beside Daniel's. Regardless of detail, the ships were a poor lot.

            There was one more vessel of interest in Morning Harbor, and it was the most interesting of all. Adele frowned when her second attempt to enter its main computer failed because the configuration wasn't what she'd expected. The third time was the charm, but–

            "Signals, there's an RCN light cruiser in harbor below," Daniel said in the same terse, metallic voice as when he'd queried her about the guard ship. "I need complete information on it, over."

            Because she was irritated at Daniel prodding her, Adele dumped to the command console the entire contents of the cruiser's log. It would be as useless to Daniel as thirty tons of coal to someone who wanted a diamond.

            Then, because even irritation couldn't prevent her from doing her duty, she said, "The ship's the Alliance cruiser Victoria Luise, assigned to the Bagarian Cluster Command. Captain Seward took the Bagarian, ah, navy to Schumer's World, and the planet revolted from the Alliance. The rebels captured the Victoria Luise on the ground and Seward brought it away with him when he returned here."

            "That's a Financier Class light cruiser from the RCN, Adele," said Daniel in a tone of delighted wonder. "I'd have thought that the last one of those'd been scraped before you or I were born. The Alliance must've captured her, and of course the Protectorate Service–well, that's our term, the Cluster Commands as the Alliance calls them–that's where you'd find old foreign-built ships. We're looking at history, by the Gods we are."

            Adele thought for a moment that Daniel had failed to close his transmission properly. Then he went on, "All right, hail the guard ship and ask for landing permission. I'm afraid that they're suddenly going to wake up to the fact that we're here and attack in a panic. Six out."

            Adele nodded understanding as she engaged both the microwave and the 20-meter transmitters. "Sacred Independence," she said, echoing her transmission on the Sissie's command channel, "this is RCS Princess Cecile under Commander Leary,  requesting clearance to land in Morning Harbor. Over."

            There was a flurry of activity on the bridge of the Independence. Adele monitored it through the Bagarians' intercom. She'd entered the system through the navigation sensors which updated the vessel's location by constant star sightings.

            "Commander Leary?" the Independence replied by microwave. "Commander Daniel Leary? This is Captain Andreas Hoppler, and I'm very glad to make your acquaintance, over."

            "Daniel, do you want to take over?" Adele said on a two-way link.

            "Roger," he said. "Break. Captain Hoppler, this is Captain Daniel Leary of the Princess Cecile. Are we cleared to land? To be honest, I was expecting you to challenge us when we extracted. What are the procedures here, over?"

            The Bagarian captain had a rolling laugh which he exercised before answering, "The procedures are that you call Morning Control and land, Captain," he said. "This is Pelosi, not a civilized place; I myself am from Newbern, you must know. We're in orbit in case the Alliance tries to attack, but they are cowards; a small ship like yours is no security threat, over."

            "Roger, Captain Hoppler," Daniel said. Even on the compressed transmission, Adele could hear the edge in his voice. "Princess Cecile out, break. Signals, connect me with Morning Control, over."

            Then, in a tone of marvel he added, "Adele, they may be right that a corvette with the sort of sweepings that Cluster Commands get for crews isn't a threat, but they'd better hope that the Alliance doesn't send real Fleet elements here. And they'd really better hope that they never get on the wrong side of me in the Sissie!"