WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 23:



Morning Harbor on Pelosi


            If Daniel had been able to stand outside himself, he'd be the first to say that the Ladouceur would be a joke in a squadron of modern warships. At thirty-eight hundred tons she was smaller than any light cruiser built for a generation and more; she had a mixed armament of two six-inch guns in a dorsal turret amidships and four four-inch guns in lateral turrets offset to bow and stern; and her antennas, instead of telescoping within themselves, folded parallel like the yards.

            The arrangements of armament and rigging had proved unsatisfactory in service. Rather than rebuild the ships involved, the Financier class had been relegated to colonial service, showing the flag on planets where a kerosene lamp was high technology. At some point in its history the Ladouceur had passed into Alliance ownership; beyond a notation by a clerk in Navy House, the RCN wouldn't have noticed her passing.

            But the old cruiser was now Daniel's flagship, and it was with pride that he gestured toward her with his left hand and said, "Generalissima and gentlemen, with the Ladouceur rerigged to my satisfaction and the crews of the whole squadron worked up properly, we'll have a force to keep the Alliance well away from Bagaria. Guarantor Porra has enough problems that he won't care to spend his resources in cracking as hard a nut as he'll find us to be!"

            Captain Seward of the Generalissima DeMarce snorted; Captain Hoppler, who'd brought the Independence down from orbit this morning, shot his right cuff and ostentatiously studied his shapely fingernails. DeMarce exchanged a grimace with Minister Lampert, though both smoothed their expressions back to neutrality when Daniel glanced over his shoulder at them.

            Because of Adele's warning, Daniel had couched his praise more defensively than his personal taste might've formed it in other circumstances. In truth, the chance of Bagaria mounting offensive operations with the means at hand would've been pretty slim, were it not for the equally low caliber of the opposing Cluster Command. And though the government might not want to disrupt trade, the undoubted greed of his present audience offered another means of manipulating them.

            "And the amount of loot that'll come to the Republic when we take Churchyard and then Conyers…," Daniel said with bland enthusiasm. "Why, even the poor of Morning City will be wearing crowns!"

            My goodness but that was a lie! but it wouldn't lie heavily on Daniel's conscience. From the feral looks on the faces of his companions, they had no intention of letting the imaginary loot trickle that far down the social scale.

            "That's all very well to say, Admiral," said Seward, a girlishly-slight Kostroman whose moustache turned up in spikes at the end. "But the crews are a problem. We seem to recruit only the dregs, I'm afraid, and not many of them. True patriotism is absent from the lower orders."

            The Bagarian navy paid a common spacer eight ostrads per day; commercial vessels in the cluster paid eighteen. All the petty officers and most of the leading spacers were foreigners whom the new republic had recruited with promises of premium pay. Unfortunately that pay hadn't materialized, so desertions among skilled spacers were even more frequent than by the Bagarian natives.

            "Well, I hope that self interest will supply the place of patriotism once we get matters in hand," said Daniel in a tone of determined cheerfulness. "When they see the loot their fellows return with, I mean. But for now, we need to be sure that the major elements of our squadron can work together. That's the Ladouceur and your ships, gentlemen–"

            He bowed to Seward and Hoppler.

            "–the DeMarce and Independence."

            "If by work together you mean maneuver in concert in the Matrix, we can't," said Seward in a tone of scorn. He'd expected to retain command of the light cruiser he'd brought back from Schumer's World; his pique at the Cinnabar officer who'd been placed over him was understandable. "We're practical captains, Leary. We're not trained in this silly folderol that you Cinnabar gentlemen set such score by."

            Daniel nodded pleasantly. "I understand that coming from a merchant background you wouldn't have experience in the concerted action that's necessary for successful naval operations, Captain," he said. "It's certainly no reflection on your skills."

            That was no more than the truth; the only justification for taking it as an insult was that it replied to the Kostroman's own hostility. Mind, Daniel did intend it as an insult. Even if failure could be justified, it was nothing to brag about.

            "I've allowed for that problem," Daniel went on smoothly while the reddening Seward spluttered toward finding words. "I'll put officers I've brought with me aboard the Independence and DeMarce as astrogators. It's not that they're more skilled than you gentlemen, of course–"

            He nodded again toward the two captains. Vesey certainly was a better astrogator than either of them, and Blantyre might well be. Of course that left Cory as First Lieutenant of the Ladouceur, but at worst the midshipman knew how to use the astrogation computer.

            "–but they've worked with me, and my little foibles won't throw them off. I propose to lift from Morning Harbor at 0600 tomorrow."

            He turned to Generalissima DeMarce. "Your Excellency?" he said. "I expect to be back in between three days and a week. Can you have a thousand soldiers ready then? Because as soon as I have the ships worked up, I propose to move against Churchyard and take care of the Cluster Command once and for all."

            The Generalissima flicked a hand to her head as though patting down an errant curl. "If you think that's wise…," she said without meeting Daniel's eyes. "Yes, all right, when you return."

            "We don't have full crews!" Hoppler protested. "We don't even have minimal crews. Leary, you're a bold fellow I'm sure, but we can't go off!"

            "Captain Hoppler, I've looked at the crew lists," Daniel said, letting the least touch of steel creep into his tone. "I'll be leaving the Sissie in Morning Harbor and splitting her crew among the three vessels of my new command, so we won't be short of skilled personnel. Some of the existing spacers may not be fully experienced yet, but that's what training's for. And as I told you, I believe that once we have a degree of success, the next stages will come easier."

            "We won't have a success!" Seward said. "We'll have a mare's nest, that's all!"

            "Captain Seward," Daniel said. "The government of Bagaria has seen fit to give me command of her naval forces."

            He nodded toward DeMarce and Lampert. They were watching the discussion carefully, but neither tried to intervene.

            "The government may remove me at any time, of course," Daniel went on, "but until then I intend to command to the best of my ability. The major elements of the fleet will lift for orbit at 0600 tomorrow. I very much hope you both will continue in the Bagarian service, but if you choose to resign your commissions instead–so be it. Do you understand me?"

            The men scowled, but neither spoke.

            "Gentlemen," Daniel said, "I must insist on a reply. Do you choose to continue in command of your present charges?"

            "Yes," said Hoppler. "Yes, fine, but you'll see."

            Seward didn't speak for a moment. Then he snarled, "You're a cocky bastard, Leary! Yes, all right, I command the DeMarce. That'll give me a good view of you falling on your high-and-mighty face."

            "We're all agreed, then," Daniel said cheerfully, sweeping his four companions with another sunny smile. This seemed to be his morning for telling whopping lies. "Then your Excellency, gentlemen–I'll be off. I have a great deal to do before liftoff tomorrow."

            The main thing he had to do was to take Vesey and Blantyre into his confidence. He wasn't going to tell all the Sissies what was going to happen for fear one of them would blurt something to the locals on the way.

            He wanted the Bagarian officers to be completely surprised when the squadron extracted from the Matrix above Dodd's Throne.