WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 31:



CHAPTER 13: En route to Churchyard


            Daniel rose from the Ladouceur's command console. The course was set and the cruiser's systems were operating within parameters. Within fairly reasonable parameters, in fact; the ship was in better condition than there'd been any reason to expect. The Financier Class's design failings seemed to have been mitigated by very solid construction standards. The ships were a peacetime series, of course.

            "Captain, this is Dart Six," said Borries, the Chief Missileer. "I'm in Bay B as in boy. I think you better come look at this, over."

            "On the way, Dart Six," said Daniel. "Break. Lieutenant Liu–"

            The Ladouceur's current XO, now on duty in the BDC. Wai Liu was a young man from the Cinnabar protectorate of Rochefort. He'd joined the Bagarian service before the Sissie's arrival. His astrogation was a trifle better than Cory's, but Daniel wouldn't trust him in a fight till he'd seen a different side of the fellow than he had thus far.

            "–I'm going down to the missile bays. You have the conn, but inform me if anything unusual happens. Six out."

            Liu's "Roger, Six," sounded bored. That was legitimate, though Daniel hoped he'd  react quickly enough if anything did crop up.

            He grinned. Adele didn't bother to look up as Daniel trotted past the signals console, but an image of his face grinned from the top of her holographic display. Whether or not Liu kept him on top of events, Adele would.

            Daniel turned into a Down companionway; the missile bays were on B and C Decks, while the Bridge was on G, the dorsal spine. Hogg was following him for no particular reason; their soft boots syncopated one another; like brushes on a drumhead, they drew whispers up and down the armored tube.

            They didn't meet anyone in the companionway; the Ladouceur was undercrewed. Daniel wouldn't pretend to have full confidence in the three-quarters of the complement who hadn't served with him before, but he was sure most of them would be all right once they'd had time to work up under an RCN captain and RCN petty officers. He could only hope he'd have that time for working up, but he kept reminding himself that the enemy personnel in this cluster were at any rate no better.

            The Ladouceur's squadron-mates consisted not only of the Independence and DeMarce, but also eleven light vessels of the Bagarian Navy. These last were tramps of the sort that handled intra-cluster trade in peacetime; the largest was 1,000 tons, and two barely displaced 300.

            They weren't even sparred heavily enough to serve as fast couriers, so under normal circumstances they had no real military purpose. Each could carry between three and six missiles, however, strapped to the outer hull. Working the sails would be even more difficult than usual, and the smaller vessels had been forced to lift with the missiles' reaction mass tanks empty. They'd been filled in orbit by the Ladouceur, whose thrust to weight ratio allowed her to rise from a gravity well carrying much greater incremental mass.

            The B Deck hatch was latched open; rust streaked the mating surfaces. Daniel frowned, wondering if Pasternak had found time to check the seal of the cruiser's internal subdivisions. If the hull were damaged in action–hard maneuvering could open seams, let alone the risk from enemy missiles and ions–everybody aboard would have to shift into suits unless the damage could be isolated.

            Daniel gave a wry smile. Well, in the event they might have to wear suits. Pasternak had enough on his plate in the Power Room. He couldn't be faulted if he let his duties as Chief of Ship go by the boards for the time being.

            B Deck was bulk storage, which included two of the cruiser's four missile magazines. Crew members called to one another in a parallel corridor, their voices gibberish from echoes. The air on this level smelled of old food, old lubricant, and the faint bite of ozone.

            Daniel's makeshift missile boats didn't have the targeting capacity or maneuverability to be useful in a ship-to-ship action, but they could dip into Churchyard's atmosphere and launch plasma missiles at ships tied to the quays. The base certainly had anti-starship defenses, but only in limited quantity: missiles capable of ripping ships from orbit cost more than these ragged tramps did. The Alliance commander couldn't safely expend them on light craft while three large warships waited just out of range.

            The Bagarian squadron was to rendezvous off the unnamed seventh planet of the Churchyard system, a gas giant with no moons to confuse officers who weren't used to trying to identify other ships in vacuum. Daniel would marshal his little flock there, then make the short intra-system hop to Churchyard. His missile craft would bombard the harbor until the Alliance commander either surrendered or sent his warships up to fight.

            Daniel grinned. He didn't expect the Alliance ships to fight. If they did, though, he couldn't think of a better way to give his raw squadron a stunning victory that would boost its confidence.

            The internal hatch to B Magazine had been slid partly open. It was long enough that thirty-foot missiles could be dollied out and rolled to the aft magazines in event the tubes fed by B Magazine were out of service. Daniel hoped he'd never have to do that, because even with a crack crew it was a recipe for death and injury every time the ship changed the amount or angle of thrust. He'd try if he had to, of course.

            The light craft carried a total of forty-six plasma missiles. The squadron's three heavy ships had only partial loads of High Drive missiles, so Daniel had split the remaining twenty-four bombardment weapons among them as reloads–half on the Ladouceur and six each on the converted freighters. It seemed to him that he had a good chance of destroying the Cluster Command's remaining ships, and an even better chance of frightening Churchyard Base into surrender.


            "Captain," said Borries, standing in the hatchway and looking down the corridor, "we got a problem."

            The Pellegrinian had a long face. He'd look like he was in mourning on the happiest day of his life, but this wasn't that day. "I been looking at these half-assed missiles we took aboard on Pelosi."

            "Right, Borries," Daniel said, following as the missileer stepped into the magazine. A Bagarian spacer, originally from Mistral–Daniel couldn't remember his name, Robert Canedo or Caneta he thought–was already inside. "The reloads for the bombardment fleet."

            The magazine was a wilderness of steel and hard lines. It'd originally been painted white, but generations of oil film and the friction of missiles, dollies, and spacers in hard suits had left it in layered gray shades picked out by patches of rust.

            To its deck was welded a double rank of missile cradles, twelve and twelve, but only the forward set was filled. Borries had removed several plates from the round on the inboard end. Mechanics' lights glared into the openings, and tools littered the deck.

            "I didn't realize these missiles had access ports," Daniel said, surprised at this level of effort from David Power. Captain Burke's plans didn't include such refinements, and nothing Daniel had seen on Pelosi would've caused him to complicate a project he was giving to the locals.

            "They do if you got a diamond saw," said Borries grimly. "Now, don't worry, Captain, I'll weld it back neater'n it was. Which won't be hard."

            He gestured to the spacer with him. "Go on, Canedo," he said. "Tell the cap'n what you told me."

            "Well, it's like this, sir," the fellow said nervously. "Look, I don't want you to think I'm not loyal to the Bagarian Republic, sir?"

            Daniel frowned. He wouldn't have spoken, but Canedo had stopped with a statement his tone turned into a question. He obviously wasn't going to proceed without encouragement.

            "I don't expect loyalty to the Bagarian Republic, Canedo," Daniel said. "I can assure you that the spacers I brought here in the Sissie aren't loyal to the Bagarians."

            "Too right, sir," said Borries with an enthusiastic nod.

            And true of me as well, spacers, Daniel thought, but it wouldn't do to say that. Aloud he continued, "I do expect you to do your job to my satisfaction and to the satisfaction of my officers. If you can manage that, then the Bagarian Republic is going to get a lot more than its money's worth out of you. Now, tell me what you know."

            "Well, you see I'd been a gunner's mate on the Vickie Lu when the wogs grabbed her on Schumer's Pisspot," Canedo said. "The wogs let common spacers enlist, but since I had a rating they kept me behind barb wire even though I wasn't an Alliance citizen. After you lot arrived, though, Ship and Rig went through the camp and pulled out folks they figured were okay. And I am, sir, I swear it!"

            "Go on," Daniel said, smiling faintly. He'd made Woetjans and Pasternak responsible for crewing the heavy ships of the squadron. He had enough to do himself without worrying about the crew situation unless somebody brought it to him as a problem. His senior warrant officers were too competent and too proud to do that.

            "Well, you see," Canedo said, "what the wogs put us prisoners to doing was making these missiles–"

            He rang his knuckles on the partially opened round beside him.

            "–if you want to call 'em that. And sir, there's some of the crew from the Vickie Lu as think the sun rises outa Guarantor Porra's butt every morning. I told Mister Borries that–"

            "He's got missile training, cap'n," Borries said eagerly. "I'd like to make him my striker, if you don't mind."

            "Granted," Daniel said. "Go on, Canedo."

            "Well, Mister Borries thought we oughta take a look for ourself. And we did."

            "Take a look here, Cap'n," Borries said, leaning into the access port and pointing with his right index finger. Canedo reached in through the next opening to the left and lifted the trouble light so that it better illuminated the feed line to which the missileer was pointing. "Just look at this!"

            The line was extruded from light metal; not as good as copper or the high-density polymer which RCN missiles would use, but adequate for the present purpose. The lines wouldn't have time to fracture from vibration in the intended use.

            Somebody'd crushed this one flat in the middle with a pair of heavy pliers. No water would flow through it to feed the thruster.

            "I figure they're all like this, sir," Borries said. "This or something else as bad. Only I wanted to tell you before I started taking the rest of 'em apart."

            "You did right, Borries," Daniel said. "And you did very well, Canedo."

            After a momentary pause he said, "You can fix them? I'll tell Pasternak to give you technicians if you like."

            "I guess Canedo and me can do it, Cap'n," the missileer said. His expression didn't look happy so much as it did anguished, but Daniel was willing to bet it was meant for a smile. "I'll tell Ship if we need help, then."

            "Then I'll get out of your way, Borries," Daniel said, turning on his heel. As he started back toward the bridge, began whistling, "When I was a young man, young man, young man…."

            He could either become furious at Master David Power, whose fiddle had saved him a few hundred florins in labor charges and bid fair to cost his nation a major victory; or he could smile cheerfully because his make-do crew was shaping up so nicely.

            He was Daniel Leary: he smiled.

            "Then I met a young girl, young girl, young girl…." he whistled.