WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 8:



CHAPTER 3: Bergen and Associates Yard, Cinnabar


            The office of Bergen and Associates was built over the shops so Daniel was forty feet in the air, looking down onto the Princess Cecile, which floated in the pool as the crew completed her outfitting. Behind him, his sister and the representatives of the Navy Office negotiated the terms of the corvette's lease.

            "Now turn to Schedule 3, Depreciation," said Deirdre Leary, sitting at what'd once been Uncle Stacey's desk and now was Lieutenant's Mon's. "You'll note that we've raised the figure by a half of a percent. That's based on actual wastage of spars and rigging during the previous RCN commission, as listed in the appendix. Now you'll note that we've–"

            She was six years older than Daniel and their father's daughter in all respects except for physique. Where Corder was tall and craggy, Deirdre was shortish, soft if not exactly fat, and attractive if you liked full-figured brunettes. Attractiveness didn't matter: what Deirdre needed from a man had nothing to do with romance, so she preferred to use professionals.

            "One moment, mistress," said Ward Spears, the civilian clerk from the Navy Office, who was seated across from her. "I notice that you've increased depreciation on the hull as well, and that you're using the high figure for hull valuation…."

            Daniel cleared his throat. "Ah, Deirdre?" he said. "The missiles have arrived and I believe I'd best oversee their stowage. You'll call me when you're ready for my signature?"

            She flicked a hand toward him in dismissal. "Yes, of course we're applying the additional half percent to the hull, Master Spears," she said sharply. "While it's easier to measure the additional strain on the running gear, you surely don't claim that it doesn't involve the hull as well?"

            The lieutenant commander who'd accompanied the clerk to represent the uniformed establishment watched longingly as Daniel started down the outside stairs. He must be as bored as Daniel was and, unlike the vessel's owner, didn't have the option of leaving the business to people who liked this sort of pettifoggery.

            Which Deirdre really must. Her bank was leasing agent on the Princess Cecile, but that didn't mean she personally needed to handle these negotiations. She was haggling over a few hundred florins when she frequently dealt in tens of millions.

            Better her than me, thought Daniel as he reached the concrete quay where Miranda stood beside Mon. A crew under Woetjans was swinging the fourth of twenty missiles cautiously from a lowboy and through the C Level port serving the stern magazine. Even empty the missile weighed several tons. Filled with reaction mass–normally water–and accelerated to terminal velocity by its antimatter motors, it could deal a crippling blow to even a battleship.

            If it hit, of course, and a corvette's small missile magazines made a hit over normal combat distances unlikely. Still, the Sissie had done some good in the past and might easily do so again. The present mission ought to provide a sufficiency of targets, at any rate.

            "Oh, there's Daniel!" called Miranda happily. She was wearing green pastel slacks and a tunic with a floral pattern, cheerful without being garish. She was pretty rather than a classic beauty, but her personality made her the center of men's attention in almost any group. "Daniel, did you realize that these missiles are dual-converter RCN units? The manifest says they're a mix of single-converter foreign missiles."

            Mon coughed and turned away in mild embarrassment. He'd been a good but unlucky officer during fourteen years of service with the RCN. When Daniel learned he owned the shipyard upon his Uncle Stacey's death two years before, he'd hired Mon to run it.

            Mon now had a contented expression and an additional twenty pounds of comfortable fat. Daniel had a completely trustworthy manager who saw to it that Uncle Stacey's long-time employees were well treated. And the shipyard was making money hand over fist.

            Of course renewed hostilities with the Alliance had something to do with profitability. Navy House was getting first-rate workmanship on jobs that it hired done in the Bergen yard, though, so Daniel felt no embarrassment about being paid better as a civilian contractor than he was as a commander in the RCN.

            "Well, Miranda," Daniel said, turning so that she could give him a friendly kiss on the cheek. "There may be some problems with paperwork, and it's even possible that I encouraged some problems with paperwork. But as I see it, missiles I ship aboard the Princess Cecile are very likely to be launched against enemies of the Republic. It's to everybody's advantage that they be modern units that accelerate quickly, don't you think?"

            "Oh," said Miranda, looking stricken. "Oh, you must think I'm a fool!"

            "Mistress, nobody thinks you're a fool!" said Mon fervently. He looked from her to the corvette, cleared his throat, and went on, "Well, what do you think of her, Commander? I don't mind saying that I think we did a good job."

            The corvette's access ports were open while she was on the ground. Vesey–Lieutenant Vesey, Daniel's first officer–looked out from the bridge and waved.

            "She's checking the astrogational updates," Mon said quietly. "Will Lady Mundy be able to help with the crewing situation, sir? Seeings as this really will be a combat mission."

            Daniel grimaced. "We decided against pressing our luck," he said. Adele's ability to enter RCN databases at will and change assignments had been very useful in the past and might be again. Repeating the trick that'd gotten the Princess Cecile a crew when last she lifted from Cinnabar raised the risk of being caught to an unacceptable level. "And we've got eighty, that's enough to work and fight a corvette. They're all veterans, and they've sailed with me before."

            "That's including the Pellegrinians, isn't it?" Mon said.

            Daniel shrugged. "They're good men," he said. "And perfectly trustworthy."

            A number of enemy spacers captured on Dunbar's World had preferred to join the RCN rather than return home and explain to Chancellor Arruns how they'd survived a disaster which'd claimed the life of his son and heir. In practice all members of the crew of a starship did their best in combat, regardless of their nationality or politics. That was their only chance of survival.

            "Oh, they'll do, I know," said Mon. He laughed and added, "They'll have Captain Leary commanding them, after all. But a hundred and twenty would be better than eighty, even if it makes the berths a little tight."

            Daniel tried to look at the Princess Cecile critically; to his surprise, he couldn't. Oh, he could rattle off the statistics: a three-hundred foot cylinder with rounded ends; six rings of four antennas each, telescoped and folded along the hull while she was on the planetary surface. The plasma thrusters which drove her in an atmosphere were on the lower hull, clear of the water. High Drive motors annihilated antimatter to provide thrust more efficiently in a vacuum; they were recessed into the outriggers which steadied the ship after she'd landed.

            The Sissie mounted paired 4-inch plasma cannon in turrets on the dorsal bow and ventral stern; the latter was inboard at the moment because it'd be under water if it were extended. For choice a starship always landed in water, which damped the flaring plasma exhaust and cushioned the process of settling many tons (1300 in the corvette's case, and she was small) onto a surface. Thrust reflected from rocky soil could flip a vessel if her captain were careless or unlucky.

About Eric Flint

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