WHEN THE RIDE RISES – snippet 40:



CHAPTER 16: Above Conyers


            "I can't get it to work," said the senior inspector. He withdrew the chip from his translator, rotated it end for end–which shouldn't make any difference–and inserted it again. His junior colleague watched with his mouth slightly open, an expression which Adele thought made him look like an imbecile.

            It didn't make any difference. "It still doesn't work," the fellow said.

            "It's the manifest we were given on Maintenon," Adele said, trying to sound bored. In order to impersonate the mate of a contract transport, she'd borrowed clothes from Tedesco, a small-framed Sissie. Because he was a motorman, the loose tunic and trousers were indelibly stained though clean in the sense that they'd been washed since their last wearing. "If you can't read it, that's your problem, not ours."

            "But don't you have the paper copy that's supposed to come with it?" the senior man said. "Look, I've got to certify that the manifest checks before we allow you to land. This may be listed as a cluster capital but it's really a hardship posting. We'd be under attack here if the clodhoppers had any weapons, you know."

            Adele'd thought the clothes might be a problem–why would the Westerdam's first mate have oil-blotched garments?–but the inspectors who boarded from the picket boat didn't appear to notice. The coveralls under their translucent airsuits weren't in any better condition.

            "Well, certify it, then!" growled Daniel from the command console. "You can read it on this display if you can't on your own."

            "Paper copies aren't controlling," Adele said. She spoke in an upper-class Blythe accent. It might cause speculation coming from the mate of a transport, but it wasn't suspicious. "Anyway, they didn't give us one. Do what he says, read it on our console."

            She'd had no difficulty mocking up a format for the manifest the Westerdam should be carrying. Unfortunately, the nearest equipment to burn that information to a chip was on Pelosi. It wasn't exotic, but it simply wasn't the sort of thing that ships normally carried themselves.

            Adele could wipe the Skye Defender's manifest, though. She could program the command console's database to throw the correct information onto the display when a blank chip was inserted into its reader.

            "Or you can send us back to Maintenon where we belong," Colonel Chatterjee growled. "We're militia. We should never have been taken away from our home planet. That's for emergencies only, and you can't tell me that holding the hand of some provincial governor is an emergency!"

            "Better not let Governor Platt hear you talk that way," the junior inspector said.

            "Or what?" Chatterjee said. "Or he'll send us to West Bumfuck in the Bagarian Cluster? I'm an important man on Maintenon, I'll have you know!"

            "Nothing on bloody Maintenon is important," muttered the official, but to his partner he said, "All right, Booth, we'll run it on theirs. But get that bloody reader over to the shop when we come in, right?"

            "Dunno why it don't work," Booth said as his senior handed the chip to Daniel, who in turn inserted it into the slot on his console. Unless his looks belied him, there were many things that Booth didn't know.

            Both inspectors leaned forward to stare at the information glowing on Daniel's display. The manifests of the Alliance's Transport Auxiliary Command were mauve, a strikingly ugly color for air-formed holograms and difficult to read besides. Adele had precisely duplicated the hue.

            "All right, you guys can land," the senior inspector said as he straightened. "But you better be careful when you open your hatches. The clodhoppers've been known to take shots at ships in Grand Harbor. This is a hardship posting, I tell you!"

            The Alliance officials sauntered back into the airlock, refastening the fittings of their air suits. When the hatch had closed behind them, Adele rose and strode for the companionway where Rene and Tovera waited. Tovera was carrying a full-sized sub-machine gun.

            "Adele?" called Daniel from the bridge. She turned.

            "Good luck," he said with a smile. "I wish we had an aircar, but the box should work well enough."

            "Yes," Adele said. "Good luck to all of us."

            A starship was merely a steel box, after all. Leaving a starship in a smaller steel box on wheels was unusual, but perhaps it was fitting. A coffin was just a box too, after all.


            "Ship," said Daniel. "All right–"

            His tongue caught momentarily. Great heavens, what to call them! Certainly not Sissies, not least because he wasn't going to cheapen that name by applying it to a battalion of pongoes, and foreign pongoes as well.

            "–comrades, we're going in. Remember your orders, obey your officers, and above all–when it starts, don't slow down till you've finished it. Six out."

            The Skye Defender's thrusters roared, squeezing Daniel back into the command console. Starships never had a high enough thrust to weight ratio to accelerate quickly. More power would be pointless, because hard acceleration would strip off the antennas and yards that the ship required to maneuver in the Matrix.

            During the landing approach, the transport was a sitting duck for the pods of ship-killing missiles in Fort Douaumont. Well, if the Alliance garrison figured out they were hostile, it wouldn't require missiles to turn the assault into a massacre of the would-be attackers. A missile would have the virtue of being quick.

            The Spring is come! Daniel whistled, I hear the birds

            The mate's position had a flat-screen display rather than a holographic tank, though it should be possible to carry out all the functions of star flight from it. Captain Chris Salmon, the officer who'd commanded the Skye Defender until Daniel took over, sat there now. He seemed an adequate officer, but Daniel would much rather've had Vesey–or even Blantyre–on that couch. He knew how people he'd trained would react after the shooting started.

            Indeed, Daniel'd thought of making Cory his XO, despite the implied insult to Salmon, but Cory was probably better off handling signals from the minimal controls in the captain's office just astern of the bridge. Cory was a brave officer who never gave less than his best, but ham-handed would've been a generous description of his piloting skills.

            that sing from bush to bush, Daniel whistled.

            Captain Salmon hadn't complained when Daniel supplanted him. Chatterjee backed Daniel's plan. Besides being of higher rank in the Skye service and a friend of the Governor, the Colonel had two hundred and fifty armed soldiers to enforce his orders. Nobody'd mentioned that, but Salmon was certainly aware of it.