WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 41:



The violence of the descent increased as the Skye Defender carved deeper into Conyers' atmosphere. The navigation laser was focused on the misnamed Grand Harbor, the fenced lagoon to the west, but Daniel had keyed in an offset so that the transport was really landing in the interior of Fort Douaumont. He doubted that the garrison would've noticed the laser beam–it was below the optical range–but he preferred not to take unnecessary risks. The necessary ones were bad enough.

            Hark! Hark! I hear them sing.

            He wished Adele was sitting in the adjacent console to update him on what the fort's defenses were doing, though she'd have to use the transport's electronics. There hadn't been time to transfer high quality naval hardware from the Ladouceur. He was sure she'd have managed, though; she always did.

            Daniel grinned. Well, so had Daniel Leary, if it came to that. And Adele had a much more critical task to perform than to warn the captain that a missile he couldn't avoid was aimed at the ship.

            There was a blat of static as someone tried to call the transport using short wave. The thrusters' exhaust, oxygen and hydrogen ions roaring across the RF spectrum as they changed state, smothered the attempt at communication. Adele wouldn't have let the white noise through to him, but Cory caught it quickly enough. Cleverness wasn't required in an RCN officer, but steadiness was; Cory was steady.

            "Westerdam, this is Conyers Control!" snarled a female voice who'd belatedly switched to laser communication. "What in the bloody hell are you playing at, you fool! Sheer off, you're supposed to be landing in Grand Harbor, over!"

            "Roger, Conyers Control," Daniel said, trusting Cory to route the transmission properly. He had enough on his plate to fight the controls through the thickening atmosphere. "This is Westerdam, Captain Schaffer speaking. Your orbital control, Officers Isaac Richards and Lloyd Booth, warned us that Grand Harbor is under attack. We're landing within the fort to disembark our troops, over."

            "You bloody fool, Schaffer!" screamed Conyers Control. "Sheer off! Sheer off now! You can't fit a ship that size on the courier pad! You'll wreck and do the devil's own damage to us! Sheer off now, damn you, over!"

            "Conyers Control, this is Schaffer," Daniel said in a tone of mindless insouciance. "We cannot change angle now, we are committed. Don't worry, little missie, this will all be all right. I, Schaffer, promise you, over."

            He was grinning as he spoke. His words and tone would send the control officer right around the bend, he figured, but she wouldn't imagine that he was a threat.

            Daniel wasn't worried about the controller warning of an attack, though she should be sending out a landing alert to keep people from sauntering across the courtyard while a ship was coming in. At worst a ground control officer wouldn't have authority to order the batteries into action. By the time she contacted someone who did have that authority, the ship would be cooling on the pad.

            At a hundred and thirty feet in the air the Skye Defender, temporarily Westerdam, slowed its descent to the rate of molasses dripping. Daniel had never controlled the ship on landing before; to his pleased surprise, she was remarkably well-balanced and responded smoothly to throttle inputs.

            He dropped lower. Reflected thrust pummeled the hull, but even that was in the form of twenty-Hertz vibrations rather than the violent surges he'd been afraid of. He'd cut the complementary angles of the central building and the rampart's inner face so perfectly that the transport only drifted outward slowly instead of pivoting around her vertical axis.

            A nice job if I do say so myself.

            "Ship, prepare for landing!" Captain Salmon announced.

            The Skye Defender touched down along the length of her starboard outrigger, dead level axially but with a half degree of yaw. The ship rang like a steel drum, every plate and bulkhead at a slightly different frequency. Daniel kept a firm grip on the controls, neither adding nor reducing thrust.

            The port outrigger touched and the main hull squealed on the oleo struts. Daniel flared his thruster nozzles and only then chopped the mass flow to zero.

            The Skye Defender/Westerdam was down. Outside the concrete and soil–the transport was far too big to fit on a pad poured for vessels a quarter of her size–shimmered with heat they'd absorbed from the flaring ions. Metal pinged as it cooled.

            A port clanged open. Not the main hatch; that'd remain closed for ten minutes even after a landing on water which dissipated the thrusters' impulse much more quickly than solid ground did. This was the Power Room access port in the far stern. It was designed so that a crane could swing the fusion bottle off its bed and onto a waiting barge or lowboy.

            Daniel's console was rattling with the fury of Conyers Control and several levels of officialdom above her. Hogg offered a sub-machine gun; as usual, he carried a stocked impeller himself.

            "Handle the discussion if you would, Captain Salmon," Daniel said. "I have other duties. I'm going to join Colonel Chatterjee in the entry hold right now."

            His face was settled into sterner lines that it usually wore. Adele needed to be in one of the distributed command centers of Fort Douaumont in order to take control of the heavy weapons. Her skill with protected information systems was critical to the success of this mission.

            But she and her companions would probably have to shoot their way into that command center. Again, Adele's remarkable skill would be required….