SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 82:



            The Greybudd hit with a horrible crash, her outriggers furrowing the ground as she skidded forward. Daniel chopped his throttles. Thruster Eleven didn't shut down, the bitch, but a gout of mud choked it into an explosion an instant later.


            The tubular struts attaching the outriggers bent back, dropping the hull till the bow plates scraped the dirt also. The Greybudd ground to a halt. The forward starboard strut tore out of the shoulder socket; the hull sagged lower still, but the hatches were continuing to wind down.


            The transport's nose was within twenty yards of the berm around the missile pit. By shutting off his thrusters and sliding to a halt, Daniel'd avoided baking the soil where the Volunteers had to jump out. It was hell on the ship–he'd probably turned the Greybudd to scrap despite his carefully optimistic comments when he broached the plan to Corius in Port Dunbar–but it was the only way to ensure that the troops could begin disembarking immediately instead of waiting for the ground to cool.


            "Power Room, report," Daniel snapped over the command channel as he unlocked the web restraints that held him onto the console.


            "As soon as these pongoes give me a little space, I'll come out the aft inspection port, Six," Pasternak said. "That wasn't half a hard landing, out."


            Hard it was, but it hadn't been a bad one. Daniel'd executed his plan better than he'd hoped would be possible. He grinned in satisfaction as he got up.


            "You can undog the bridge hatch," he said to those around him, though he didn't care whether someone did or didn't. He'd ordered it locked to keep out Volunteers who might panic at just the wrong time during the flight.


            Daniel couldn't blame them; there'd been moments when he'd have jumped for the controls himself if he weren't already at them. On the other hand, it wasn't going to help to have a frightened sergeant grabbing him by the shoulder–to pick one of a half dozen possibilities–as he angled the jets to compensate for the cold wind blowing down the channel of the Meherrin River.


            "Six, this is Victor One," said Vesey, her weak signal boosted into crackly audibility by the Greybudd's antennas and amplifiers. "We've secured the objective. All personnel are inside the berm, over."


            Daniel undogged the exterior hatch–he had to hammer the left dog with the heel of his hand to start it–and began spinning the hand-crank to wind it up. Except for cargo and Power Room, the transport's hatches were manually worked. Fallert had opened the internal hatch so the babble of thousands of troops flooded the compartment.


            "Roger, Victor One," Daniel said. His commo helmet was sending by the same route. He could only hope Vesey understood him through the static and distortion. "Hogg and I will be joining you ASAP. Are you in contact with Baker, over?"


            Baker was the Princess Cecile, inbound under Blantyre with the remainder of the Sissies aboard. Daniel'd ordered her to make an ordinary liftoff to orbit, then drop onto Mandelfarne Island. He had a healthy appreciation of his own skill, but the low-level flight across the continent had been a strain. It wasn't something he was going to ask a midshipman to undertake.


            Not just babble reached the bridge from the body of the ship. Judging by the stench, half the Volunteers must've puked their guts up during the flight and landing. On the other hand, the Pellegrinians here in what was supposed to be a rear area couldn't be in good shape either, watching a starship full of attackers land in their midst.


            "Roger, Six," said Vesey. "Baker One says five minutes, I repeat, five minutes. She'll home on our beacons, over."


            A slug whanged off the Greybudd's hull, rather too close to the hatch Daniel had just locked open. It seemed that the Pellegrinians weren't all cowering in their dugouts.


            "Six out," he said as Hogg threw a coiled line through the opening; the other end was tied around the base of the command console. Daniel drew on gauntlets from a rigging suit. Anything further he needed from Vesey could wait till they were face to face.


            Hogg handed Daniel one of the impellers he'd brought; he'd already snubbed the sling of the other around his chest. "I'll lead," Hogg said. He grabbed the line–he was wearing the mesh gloves he used with his weighted fishline–and swung himself through the hatch.


            Daniel took time to sling the impeller securely, then followed his servant into the night. It might be ten or fifteen minutes before enough Volunteers had disembarked for the bridge personnel to leave via the normal hatches, and he didn't have that much time.


            Quite a lot of shooting was going on, though that didn't necessarily mean there was much fighting. Indeed, Daniel had noticed as he climbed out the hatch that the most enthusisastic firing came from the west end of the island. The Volunteers certainly hadn't gotten that far, and it was unlikely that the Bennarians had chosen this precise instant to launch a cross-channel raid.


            Daniel started down, guiding the quarter-inch line with his boots but controlling his speed by the gauntlets. Slugs hit the hull and ricocheted, sometimes thrumming close enough to make his lips purse. There was a risk of being hit by a stray shot, but there was a risk to getting out of bed in the morning. You couldn't worry about such things.


            When Daniel heard the drive fans approaching, he was still twenty feet in the air. He twisted to look over his shoulder. A Pellegrinian APC was driving in from the east, a black bulk silhouetted by lights and gunshots on the ground.


            "Clear below!" Daniel shouted because he didn't have time to check where Hogg was. He kicked the hull to get clear and let go of the line. He was still falling when the vehicle's cannon ripped a bolt at the transport, biting the lip of the lighted hatch directly above.


            Daniel hit the ground, taking the shock on his flexed knees. He'd stripped the gauntlet from his right hand as he dropped; now he released his impeller's sling because that was quicker than spreading the loop. Hogg was firing, his slugs red and purple and pastel green as they bounced from the APC's armor.


            Not all bounced. Spurred by Hogg's example, scores–perhaps a hundred–of the Volunteers opened up as well.

About Eric Flint

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