WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 37:



            A burst of gunfire ripped the morning, thin and echoless in the dry air. Daniel jumped to his feet. Instead of reaching for her pocket pistol, Adele's wands moved rapidly. That startled Daniel until he realized that she'd switched her display to the targeting screen of the Ladouceur's dorsal turret. It gave her a much better vantage point than he had standing.

            "Please, it's all right," said Colonel Chatterjee in obvious concern. "Please, I'm very sorry, Admiral. I told my officers to arrange a marksmanship demonstration while we were on the ground here. I felt that your spacers would be more comfortable if they could trust the infantry that was supporting them. But I should've spoken to you about my plans."

            Daniel forced a smile and settled onto his chair again. "That would've been helpful, yes," he said mildly, "but I'm sure it's good for me to get my heart rate up. Now, as for the inspection party, Chatterjee?"

            "I'm sure we can do that," Chatterjee said. "Yes, I'm sure. I used to be an Alliance officer, you see?"

            He paused on a rising note, lifting an eyebrow in synchrony. He obviously thought the information would be a surprise–and feared it'd be an unwelcome one.

            "Yes, we were aware of that," Daniel said, smiling internally. "We," meaning Adele had learned that and had immediately passed it on because it was potentially important. "But you're a native of Skye. If Governor Radetsky trusts you, that's good enough for me."

            "Ah!" said Chatterjee. "Well, there isn't much uniformity among the planetary militias in Alliance service. If we were Alliance militia, we'd look about the same. It'll just be a matter of making sure the troops the inspectors are allowed to see all have patches saying Maintenon."

            He snorted. "Or at least that they don't say Skye Volunteers. Though I don't think many of the men got around to having patches embroidered on their uniforms before we lifted for Churchyard. We boarded in haste, you see."

            A branch hopper–not the one Daniel had caught–shrieked nearby. A third little creature answered it from much farther away. The high-pitched sound travelled well.

            "Are we to assault the headquarters complex when we've landed?" Chatterjee said, frowning at the image of the fortress again. "I suppose if we have surprise, that should be possible. Surprise and a way to cross the ditch and climb the wall, that is."

            "Yes," said Daniel, "surprise of course. And as for the rest, we'll be landing inside the compound."

            "What?" said Chatterjee. "Leary, Admiral, that is–there's no room! Look at that little boat in the picture. The Defender isn't huge, I don't mean that, but she's far too large to land there."

            "The Westerdam, as we'll be calling her, is 381 feet between perpendiculars," Daniel said. He flexed his spread fingers as he considered the approaching test. "If I keep her centered between the headquarters building and the rampart, I'll have over five hundred feet to settle onto. The 53-foot beam is no problem. Now, it'll be tricky because it's concrete and not water, but I don't foresee serious problems."

            He beamed, a wholesome, cheery expression that he figured was the best way to give a lie the gloss of truth. The combination of angles and hard verticals would reflect the transport's exhaust in unpredictable fashions. The Ladouceur's landing simulation program didn't have software to mimic such terrain: it was too far beyond what the designers had imagined anyone would want to do.

            Granted, missile boats and couriers obviously managed it, but the task was going to be an order of magnitude more difficult for a vessel the size of the, well, Skye Defender. On the other hand–

            Daniel's smile became completely real.

            On the other hand, he figured he was an order of magnitude better than the captains of minor elements of an Alliance cluster command.

            "Ah, one thing that I've only implied, Colonel," he said. "I'll be taking charge of the Skye Defender myself. I've landed ships her size on dry ground, of course."

            Daniel'd landed one ship that size on dry ground, and that'd been a controlled crash which wrote off the vessel. This had to look like a real landing, not the vertical assault it really was, if it had a prayer of succeeding. Well, he'd manage it.

            Chatterjee shook his head in amazement, but he was grinning broadly. "All the stories we heard were true then, Admiral," he said. "We'll do as you wish, of course; what else can we do when so famed an officer leads?"

            His expression became speculative. "And you will be leading, of course?" Chatterjee said. "You will be putting your life on the line with ours?"

            "Not only my life, Colonel," Daniel said, nodding to Adele, "but the life of the finest signals officer in the RCN. I assure you that I wouldn't be risking Officer Mundy if I weren't confident of success."

            Adele looked at him without expression; Daniel laughed to make a joke out of it. It wasn't a joke, not really. All he was really confident of was that they wouldn't have a prayer of succeeding if Adele weren't in the ship that made the landing.

            "So," he said "If you'll call your officers together in half an hour in the entry hold of the Ladouceur, I'll go over the detailed assignments for the assault."

            "Very good," said Chatterjee, rising. "A bold plan is the best plan, I agree."

            He bowed and strode off to where the target practice was taking place. The rattle of shots and the howl of ricochets from stone had been continuous since they began.

            "Well, Adele," Daniel said quietly. "What do you think?"

            "I think that if I can't take control of the fire control computer for the plasma cannon on the wall," Adele said, "that they'll destroy us as soon as they realize we're hostile. I'll try to accomplish that."

            "Yes," said Daniel. "I expected that you would."

            A branch hopper called very close to them. Daniel jerked his head around, but he wasn't able to pinpoint the creature this time.

            "I think they're more active than they'd usually be," he said, "because of our breath. Five hundred people exhaling in a close compass like this is going to raise the humidity a great deal in this climate. I think it's a good omen, don't you?"

            "I'll search under 'Omens, finger-sized animals on Dansant,' shall I?" said Adele with a deadpan expression. "But I'll be frank, I don't believe I'm going to be able to support your belief there."

            She didn't laugh with him, but her smile was as broad as he'd seen it in a long time.