WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 5:



            On the stage, the Princess Cecile–a computer image too sparklingly perfect for even an admiral's yacht–battled a cruiser/minelayer with plasma cannon. The guns were primarily defensive armament intended to divert incoming missiles, but they could damage rigging or even worse if the range was really short.

            The Sissie's 4-inch weapons weren't sufficient to harm a cruiser's hull, of course. When her opponent exploded in a fireball swelling to fill the stage, Cazelet snorted in derision.

            "I realize it's fiction," he said, "but couldn't they try to make it at least vaguely believable?"

            "That's real imagery," Adele said. "Oh, it didn't happen off Dunbar's World, and of course it wasn't the Sissie's guns that were responsible. The Bremse detonated one of her own mines."

            "By the Gods," Cazelet said softly. He turned to meet her eyes. "There are safety devices, are there not?"

            The false Commander Leary was making another speech. In fact Daniel was a very effective orator, but Adele was sure that hadn't affected the 'documentary' in the least.

            "The lockouts were disconnected," Adele said. I disconnected them, thereby killing several hundred Alliance spacers. Though I'm not sure it counts unless you watch them over your gunsight as they die.

            Riggers danced up and down the Sissie's antennas in light air suits, probably because the rigging suits they really wore were too stiff and depersonalizing for properly dramatic effects. Commander Leary–who wore Dress Whites under his translucent air suit–leaped into the void to save two spacers who'd slipped from the yard.

            The computer-generated Princess Cecile was back in action, this time against a heavy cruiser. The enemy vessel crumbled under the lash of incoming missiles.

            "That's true too?" Cazelet said. "I'll admit it looks like real imagery, but I don't see how it could be."

            Adele smiled faintly. "It can be real if you realize that there's an allied battleship launching from out of the image area," she said. "That was two years ago and nowhere near Dunbar's World. But it was real."

            The battles–and the heroic speeches, none of which mentioned loot or sexual partners like the speeches Daniel was in the habit of making to his crews–continued. Adele clipped scenes and made notes, feeling a grim fascination.

            Almost no part of the documentary was 'right' except for the historical images, but they could only have come from the RCN archives. There was nothing unusual about Navy House surreptitiously releasing documents and imagery to enhance the RCN's reputation or to do a favor to a powerful politician. There was vanishingly little chance of Admiral Vocaine providing information to make Daniel Leary a national hero, however.

            On stage Der Grosser Karl limped into the Matrix, badly injured by the Sissie's missiles. That was true too, in part. Adele had been present, but she couldn't say that she really remembered the battleship's 8-inch cannon raking them at point-blank range. At the time her duties had kept her too busy to worry about whether or not she was about to be killed. Besides, the chance of death wasn't something that'd have greatly exercised her even if she weren't occupied.

            Assuming that the play had climaxed when the Princess Cecile chased away a battleship, Adele straightened. She looked forward to returning to Chatsworth Minor where she'd have privacy to explore the questions which the performance raised.

            Rene Cazelet had lapsed into silence. He was watched the stage intently, though occasionally he glanced sidelong at Adele. Her control wands flickered, gathering images and comparing them with stored data.

            "There was still one hurdle for Commander Leary and his heroic crew," boomed Michael Beasley in a voice over.

            On stage the Princess Cecile swept low across the single continent of Dunbar's World, then braked hard. They won't show that, surely they won't!

            "They had to capture the Alliance base and disable the missile battery there!"

            They were going to show it.

            The corvette landed on a muddy island, crushing barracks and military equipment beneath its outriggers. The main hatch crashed down immediately–Adele wondered whether that was dramatic license or if the producers simply didn't understand how slowly a multi-ton section of hull plating had to move if it weren't to be battered to scrap metal. The supposed crew of the Sissie rushed down the ramp without waiting for the ground baked by the plasma jets to cool. Commander Daniel Leary was in the lead.

            Please. Please. Please.

            Adele didn't know who she was speaking to. Praying to, she supposed, though she didn't believe in gods or Gods or anything at all except the working of blind chance.

            Commander Leary held a sub-machine gun in one hand and a stocked impeller in the other. He raced toward the berm protecting the pit where ship-killing missiles were emplaced, using both weapons as he ran. For some reason the Alliance troops jumped out of their bunkers before they shot at him; they spun artistically and fell.

            The gate into the emplacement was of razor ribbon stretched on a frame. Just like the real gate.

            Commander Leary sawed through the obstruction with a burst from his sub-machine gun. Alliance projectiles hitting wires, hitting tubing; howling, ricocheting in neon colors. Occasionally a wire parting with a sickening jangle.

            "Follow me, my heroes!" Commander Leary shouted as he ran through the gap in the gate. The corvette's whole crew was with him. Bunched like that, a single automatic impeller would slaughter the lot of them. They'd be dead!

            "Mistress, are you all right?" Cazelet said. His left arm was around her back; his hands were gripping her shoulders firmly. "Would you like to leave?"

            There were bunkers inside the emplacement. Troops in Alliance uniforms–which was wrong, they'd been Pellegrinians, all but the communications detachment–threw down their weapons and stood, waving white flags.

            "Victory!" boomed the voice over. "And permanent safety for Dunbar's World under the protection of the Republic of Cinnabar!"

            "I'm sorry," Adele whispered. "I'm all right."

            Light flickering from the firing slits of the bunkers, the traces of driving bands ionized by the charges that accelerate them up the gun barrels. Her holographic sights twitching as she fires two rounds and moves to the next target. The faces of the Pellegrinian soldiers are shadowed, but she sees every one of them clearly as they bulge under the impact of her projectiles.

            The martial music resumed as the house lights came up. Adele closed her personal data unit and slid it back into its pocket. Cazelet had taken his hands away from her but he continued to watch with a concerned expression.

            "We'll return to Chatsworth Minor," Adele said as she stood. She didn't meet his eyes. "You'll have a room in the servants' quarters while I look into matters."

            "Mistress, I have a room already," Cazelet said.

            "It's best that you stay at Chatsworth," she said sharply. "That'll prevent accidents. Some of them, at least."

            "Yes, ma'am," Cazelet said. Did he realize that she was worried about Mistress Sand, or rather what someone in Mistress Sand's organization might do to prevent the compromise of an asset as valuable as Adele Mundy?

            He touched the door latch, but he paused and looked at Adele until she met his eyes. "Mistress," he said, "that last scene? Did Commander Leary really assault a strong point that way?"

            "No," said Adele, stepping past the boy to open the door herself. "I did."