WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 32:



Above Churchyard


            Adele sat poised at her console. Because she used her own data unit as an interface, she wasn't handicapped when she changed from the Sissie's recently upgraded electronics to the cruiser's much older systems.

            Realistically, differences in displays, input devices, and operating systems never slowed her down when she was on the track of information; not to a degree that any onlooker would've noticed it. Still, she was a conservative person and would rather have things the same than not.

            "Preparing to extract from the Matrix in thirty seconds," Liu announced from the BDC.

            Adele felt the quiver of charges building as the Ladouceur neared the end of its short hop from the outskirts of the Churchyard System. The Independence and DeMarce had reached the rendezvous without difficulty; that was almost a given with Vesey and Blantyre plotting the courses. Only seven of the eleven light craft had arrived, though Daniel seemed to think they'd be sufficient. She smiled: indeed, he'd said he'd be amazed to find as many as nine.

            Adele smiled more broadly; almost as broadly as what an ordinary person would call a smile. One change that she didn't in the least regret was being adopted into the RCN family. There were costs to the association, physical and mental ones both, but Daniel Leary and the RCN had saved her life. More important, they'd given her a reason to live.

            "Extracting-g-g…," moaned a voice dehumanized by the process of returning to the sidereal universe. The interior lights sharpened, the displays swelled to life now that the Ladouceur wasn't in a bubble universe shut off from every other human artifact, and the five turrets squealed as Sun slewed them toward real targets.

            Adele didn't care what Sun did or Daniel did, and for that matter she didn't care very much about whether a missile was about to blast the Ladouceur into dust and ions. Other people, friends and enemies alike, had duties for which they were responsible; that was fine. Adele Mundy would focus on her duty, which right now involved learning everything possible about Alliance ships on and about Churchyard.

            The Ladouceur was 103,000 miles out from the planet and displaying very little proper motion to it. Daniel had placed them a little east to the perpendicular of Hafn Teobald, the Alliance naval base, so that Churchyard's rotation would keep the target in view for the longest possible time even if the cruiser didn't maneuver.

            That was Daniel's problem; Adele's first act was to tap into the planetary network of weather satellites. That gave her day and night coverage of Churchyard's surface at a level of detail that was more than adequate for the present purposes. The system could be shut down but probably wouldn't be, at least not before she'd found another path to continuous surveillance.

            With the future provided for, Adele surveyed the ships in harbor below. That hadn't been her first priority because she knew it'd be Daniel's. He was better at optical identification than she was anyway. In this case, the electronic signatures would only confirm what the captain'd already learned.

            Three freighters, one of them gutted for use as a warehouse and accommodation ship, were anchored parallel to the harbor's northern shore. In two of the six slips on the south side were a large modern destroyer, the Cesare Rossarol, and the missile boat S81.

            The latter was a 300-tonne vessel built to do the job for which Daniel had jury-rigged the lighter vessels in his squadron. It could carry two High Drive missiles on external mountings, and unlike the Bagarian country craft, it had full targeting equipment.

            Adele'd seen enough space battles by now to know that a pair of missiles wasn't a threat to a ship which could maneuver normally; doctrine recommended use of missile boats in squadrons of six or twelve, making possible a volley which could in theory overwhelm the defenses even of a battleship. In the present case, S81's missiles weren't mounted. A quick dip into her electronic log suggested that General Auguste, the Commander of Cluster Forces, had been using the ship as a courier to and from Conyers.

            The remainder of the Bagarian squadron appeared in bits and pieces–the Independence and a moment later the DeMarce, then three light craft, followed by two more light craft. Adele focused on entering Hafn Teobald's the main database now that she was sure there were no orbiting Alliance warships, but she was glad to note on an inset that Cazelet, using the otherwise-empty console across the compartment, was keeping track of friendly vessels.

            Surely the final two ships couldn't have gotten lost in the course of an intrasystem transit, could they?

            Of course they could. Some of the Bagarian captains had as little astrogation experience as Signals Officer Mundy did, and they were using hardware which hadn't been checked ahead of time by Commander Leary. But with luck the ships weren't permanently lost; and anyway, Daniel'd make do. Daniel always made do.

            Adele found the information she needed and forwarded it to the command console. Over a two-way link she said, "Captain, the base has a triple launcher for anti-starship missiles. There're three more missiles to reload in a bunker attached to the launching pit. The launcher's active, and it's isolated from the headquarters communications system that I can enter. I'm afraid that I'm not able to attack the launcher. Ah, electronically."

            She stumbled over the thought, remembering the pit on Dunbar's World that she'd shot her way into. That wouldn't be possible here either, because the Ladouceur couldn't land close enough to permit a ground assault.

            Razor ribbon singing as bullets cut the tensioned strands.

            Osmium pellets ricocheting from posts like streaks of neon light.

            Faces framed in her sight picture.

            "Signals, are you all right?" Daniel's voice was saying. "I repeat, what's the status of the two warships, over?"

            "S-sorry," Adele said. "Sorry, Daniel, I…. It doesn't matter, sorry. The S81 is fully crewed and was scheduled to lift for Conyers within the hour with dispatches. The Rossarol has only a skeleton crew though it seems to be fit for operations as soon as it's manned. Over."

            She'd remembered to close her speech according to RCN protocol. Good, good… but that didn't make up for the way she'd drifted into nightmare when people were depending on her.

            Though Adele's left side occasionally knotted where the bullet'd hit her during the assault on Dunbar's World, the physical twinge wasn't the worst damage she'd received that night. Everything has costs, and the benefits of being part of the RCN family were worth everything she'd paid thus far–and everything she'd continue paying to the day she died.

            She smiled faintly. She'd heard Sissies bragging about how Mistress Mundy'd cleared the missile pit, putting two rounds through the same eye of every member of the launch crew who'd dared to show himself. That was pretty much true, as a matter of fact.

            And no one except possibly Daniel suspected what it cost her in the hours before dawn to have done that. To have done so many things of that nature, because they were part of the job.

            Not complaining was part of the job too, at least as she saw it. She was Mundy of Chatsworth.

            "Roger, Signals," Daniel said calmly. "Link me to all ships in the squadron soonest and inform me when you're ready, over."

            Adele frowned. Does he think I'm too worn out to do my job? Aloud she said, "You're connected to the whole squadron as soon as you speak the keyword, Captain Leary. Would you prefer that I manually connect you? Out."

            She meant, "Over." It was all childish nonsense anyway, boys playing games.

            "Squadron, this is Squadron Six," Daniel said instead of–pointlessly–answering her. "I'm sending the approach information and order of attack to the bombardment force."

            Adele transmitted his words on 15.5 KHz, the frequency to which the whole squadron was supposed to be tuned, as well as via individual laser heads aimed at each of the other vessels. She could guarantee that a modulated laser painted each Bagarian ship, but in her wildest dreams she didn't imagine that all of them had working receivers or that they'd bothered to turn them on if they did.

            "The initial order of attack," Daniel continued, "is Columbine, Forsyte 14, and Stager Brothers. These leading vessels will rendezvous with the Ladouceur, Independence, and DeMarce respectively after they've launched their initial loads. Clinton and Burke Trading, wait for further orders. Are there any questions, over?"

            "Who the hell do you think you are to be giving me orders, boy?" said a voice. Adele identified it as Captain Michael Stout of the Stager Brothers, a 600-ton tramp whose plating rattled at anchor. She slugged the information to the command console in text. "I'll go in when I decide I'll go in. Out!"

            "Stager Six, this is Squadron Six," Daniel replied mildly. "I sincerely hope you'll attack when your orders from the commanding admiral direct you to attack, Captain Stout. Your vessel is within 18,000 miles of the flagship, and our guns are trained on you. Do you understand, over?"

            There was a hiss of static across the shortwave spectrum: the 800-ton Columbine was braking hard with her High Drive to drop her into Churchyard's gravity well. Almost simultaneously the squadron's two missing ships reentered the sidereal universe.

            Adele fed the information to the command console and went back to eavesdropping on the increasingly panicked Alliance HQ. The personnel on duty were beginning to realize what was happening. It wasn't her place to judge, but Adele allowed herself a tiny smile.

            Things seemed to be going according to plan.