WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 24:



CHAPTER 11: Above Dodd's Throne


            The process of extraction, so unpleasant if Adele had time to think about it, passed her unaware or at least unconcerned when she was busy. The Ladouceur's extraction above Dodd's Throne made Adele very busy.

            The planet, sunlit from the Sissie's present position, was an unattractive yellow-orange lump. The Sacred Independence was already in normal space, 147,000 miles from the Princess Cecile and rather closer than that to the planet. Another ship hung in a free-fall orbit some 57,000 miles above the planetary surface. Ordinarily ships held 1 g to simulate gravity, but Rene'd warned Adele that Dodd's Throne might be an exception because it wouldn't be possible to replenish reaction mass upon landing.

            Rene was a clever young man, and he learned quickly.

            The orbiting ship was… "Daniel, the unfamiliar vessel is the freighter Moore County out of Rodham," Adele said. She'd keyed the command channel manually, which meant she should've called him Captain; or perhaps Admiral? Well, they all knew that she'd meant no disrespect; and she was in a hurry. "It's just lifted with a cargo of holographic entertainment centers from Mine Compound 73, which appears to be the trading rendezvous on Dodd's Throne. It's not a guardship, and there doesn't appear to be a guardship. Over!"

            "Acknowledged, Signals," Daniel's voice said coolly. "Over."

            She'd put too much emphasis on "over" because she was embarrassed at calling Daniel by his name in public. Will I never get it right?

            Another ship appeared, the Generalissima DeMarce. Blantyre was nearly a minute behind schedule, but she'd brought her charge even closer than the 21,000 miles above the planet where Daniel had extracted the Ladouceur.

            Adele's wands assembled and analyzed data from Dodd's Throne, then collated the results and transmitted them as a text block to Daniel's display. "Captain," she said, "there are six Bagarian ships on the ground at MC 73, which I've highlighted. They're exchanging cargo with two Pleasaunce-registered ships, the Vieux Carree and Babanguida. The Alliance ships each have two single 10-cm guns, but they don't appear to be manned at present, over."

            "Roger, Signals," said Daniel. He didn't sound excited, but Adele heard a quiver of hopeful enthusiasm in those few syllables. Perhaps she imagined it. "Connect me with our squadron mates, over."

            "You're connected, Captain," Adele said, trying to keep her voice free of the irritation she felt at being asked to do something she'd set up within seconds of extraction. And within seconds of the DeMarce's extraction, of course, but that delay wasn't her fault.

            She'd chosen the 20-meter short-wave frequency rather than laser or microwave links. SW transmissions were easy to intercept, but Adele didn't trust the personnel or equipment of the converted merchantmen to pick up the tight-beam communications she preferred.

            "Squadron, this is Squadron Six," Daniel said. "The pair of 5,000 ton freighters on the planet below–"

            He transmitted a map file marked with the location of MC 73. He hadn't bothered to ask Adele to create it for him as some captains might've done.

            "–are Alliance-owned and therefore legitimate prizes. I want both of you to take your ships down, secure the enemy vessels, and put prize crews aboard. There shouldn't be any need for violence since we've caught them without hope of escape. Remember, this is about making us all rich, not about killing people. Do you understand, over?"

            While she gave Daniel her partial attention, Adele monitored communications among the merchant vessels. None of them–including the Moore County–seemed to have the slightest awareness, let alone concern, regarding the warships' arrival.

            "I bloody well won't be doing that, Leary!" Seward snapped back immediately. "There's no proper harbor down there, just bare rock that's bound to be irregular. It's not safe for a ship the size of the DeMarce. And just what do you propose to do while we're on the ground, can you tell me that, over?"

            "The Ladouceur will be in orbit making sure no one surprises us on the ground the way we're about to surprise the Vieux Carree and Babanguida," Daniel said. He sounded calm, almost bored. "Break. Captain Hoppler, do you see your way clear to obeying orders, over?"

            The blue glint of the Independence's High Drive brightened, dragging a hiss across the short-wave spectrum. "Why yes, of course, Admiral," Andreas Hoppler said with studied nonchalance. "Newbern is a real planet, not a spherical soup-bowl like Kostroma where my colleague comes from. I'm used to landing on solid ground. I'm setting down now. Guard us well, Admiral. Hoppler out."

            "Squadron Six, this is DeMarce Five," announced Midshipman Blantyre, who'd presumably awarded herself the first lieutenant's call sign according to RCN protocol. "I'm ready and willing to bring her in, sir. As you know, I've got hard-surface experience, over."

            Is that true? Adele thought. She started to bring Blantyre's record up as a sidebar on her display, then realized that written documentation wouldn't go into that level of detail. Besides, Blantyre'd said that Daniel knew she had experience. If that'd been true in any meaningful sense, Adele would've known it too.

            Blantyre was therefore not telling the truth. She was, in fact, lying in order to deceive Captain Seward who'd otherwise obstruct Daniel's wishes. Adele supposed she ought to feel good about what Blantyre was doing, since it was bringing about a good result; the dishonesty still made her lip curl.

            A smile softened what'd been a sneer of disgust. Her way of dealing with Seward would've been to offer to shoot him dead at his console if he didn't carry out Daniel's orders. Most people–Tovera was an exception–would agree that Blantyre's technique was preferable, and Adele decided that she would join the majority.

            "Yes, all right, DeMarce Five," Daniel said blandly. "Captain Seward, Lieutenant Blantyre will land the vessel in the interests of safety if you like. Command will revert to you when you're on the ground, over."

            "I'll land the bloody ship, Leary!" Seward said. His High Drive already glared with braking thrust. "I don't need a brat who's still got her milk teeth to pilot my ship for me. But I want you to know that it's dangerous–though not for you up in orbit, of course! DeMarce out!"

            Adele kept real-time inserts of the Ladouceur's companions on the upper register of her display. The Independence was already deep in the atmosphere. Even without expanding the image of Hoppler's ship, she could see it was wrapped in a shroud of rainbow ions as its plasma thrusters took over from its High Drive.

            "Adele, can you connect me with the ships on the ground?" Daniel asked quietly over a two-way link. "I want to warn them not to resist, over."

            "Yes, of course," Adele said, adjusting her wands almost without thinking about it. "I can't guarantee that anybody will be manning the signals suite, of course, but if we use the 17-meter emergency frequency it should trip the ships' intercom circuits also. That should rouse somebody."

            She tried to expand Daniel's real-time image on her display. Her attempt failed, though she wasn't sure if it was a problem with the command–she was using her personal data unit as an input device, as usual–or if the console she was using had a malfunction. Instead, she looked at Daniel directly.