IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 44:
Daniel lifted an eyebrow toward Forbes. She glared at him and said, “Leary, I warned you. Just say it. I still don’t see what this cruiser can do against a fleet with three battleships–or even the other battleship, wherever it’s gone off to.”
“The remaining Alliance squadron is reducing Ponape,” Daniel said, shrugging. “Ponape isn’t a Cinnabar ally, but it’s trying to remain independent and has some naval forces.”
He looked toward Adele and nodded to direct Forbes’ attention to her. “Lady Mundy,” he said. “Please describe the situation on Bolton to the Senator.”
“Bolton?” said Forbes. “What’s Bolton? Where’s Bolton, that is?”
“Bolton has for sixty years been the Alliance capital in the Montserrat Stars,” Adele said calmly. Daniel doubted that Forbes would hear her irritation at being asked a silly question. There was no particular reason the senator should know about Alliance sector capitals, of course. “It’s the cluster’s main Fleet base. There are no warships stationed there, however, and the regular garrison is small.”
She looked up from her display, a blur of light to any eyes but her own. “Many Alliance military retirees live on Bolton,” she said, “but the weapons that would be issued to them if they were reactivated are under guard in the military reservation. The only troops presently under arms are a regular battalion of about five hundred.”
“But this is a Fleet base?” Forbes said. “Surely it’s defended?”
She touched the console she sat at, obviously for a moment considering bringing it live. A Senator wouldn’t carry a data unit herself, but her secretary would normally be at her side with one available. Daniel was coming to respect Senator Forbes… and he suspected his father respected her also.
“There’s an extensive Planetary Defense Array,” Adele said, lowering her eyes to her display again. Her wands danced. “A minefield. I can’t disarm it except from its control room in the citadel.”
“What?” said Forbes. She was using that word and tone a great deal this afternoon. “Is it possible to switch off PDAs? Why, Cinnabar isn’t safe if that’s true!”
“I said it wasn’t possible to disarm this array,” Adele said with a waspish buzz. “But it’s an older system and out of date. I may be able to adjust its coverage patterns from outside the controlled zone.”
“While we were returning from the Angouleme Palace,” Daniel said, leaning toward the Senator, “I discussed the details of the situation with Lady Mundy. The individual warheads of a PDA can move. They have to be able to in order to close gaps swept in their coverage. Lady Mundy believes she can shift the mines outward from an axis wide enough to allow a ship to pass through without triggering any of them.”
“It sounds,” said Forbes deliberately, her eyes holding Daniel’s, “insanely dangerous.”
He shrugged and smiled. “I have more experience of Lady Mundy’s skill than you do, Senator,” he said. “But if you’ll look at the record of ships which I’ve commanded, I think you’ll see that I have reason for my confidence.”
“You’ll also see,” said Adele unexpectedly, “that the fact that a plan is insanely dangerous has never deterred Captain Leary in the past. But we expect to take risks on the Republic’s behalf, since we’re RCN.”
Daniel didn’t know how to read Adele’s expression. It was cold, certainly, but it was always cold in his experience. There was real emotion underlying the analytical glare, though. It reminded him that her father, like his and like the woman here on the bridge with them, had been a Senator. Was she judging the whole structure of the Republic when she spoke to Forbes?
“And I’m not, you mean?” said Forbes. She laughed, cackled anyway. “Well, I think you’d find agreement among my colleagues that I’m at least as expendable as you are, Captain Leary. And I’m quite sure–”
She looked at Adele. For a moment, the women’s expressions mirrored one another.
“–that Mistress Sand would shed fewer tears for me than she would for Lady Mundy. So, Captain….”
Her eyes switched back to Daniel.
“What is it you need from me?”
“We need troops,” Daniel said. Forbes had demanded that he be direct, but he was pleasantly surprised to learn that she really could accept directness without becoming angry or defensive. “How close are you to William Beckford?”
Forbes grimaced. “Not good enough friends that he’d give me soldiers,” she said. “Besides, Captain, I don’t believe that he has soldiers in any number. Yes, I know he’s skirted the edge of legality a time or two, but I assure you that Prince Willie is the last man I know who’d try to overthrow the Republic by force. He’s interested in his pleasures and in the businesses which bring in money to pay for those pleasures. That’s all.”
“That’s not precisely what I had in mind,” Daniel said. “To phrase it differently, would you object to the Republic getting troops from Master Beckford without his prior agreement?”
Forbes frowned and pursed her lips. “No,” she said. “No, I don’t suppose I would. Not in the present need. If there were any.”
“Then,” said Daniel, rising with a smile, “the next step is for the three of us to go to the Hydriote Traders Guild here in Hegemony City, where you’ll represent the Republic. I’ll run over the points of the proposition while we’re on route.”
Adele rose also, shutting down her personal data unit. “I’ve called ahead,” she said. “Captain Gambardella is the senior official present, and he wasn’t at all happy about entering discussions with us. But he couldn’t–”
Adele smiled. A pistol shot would’ve been warmer and held more humor.
“–refuse to meet with a senator of your stature, Mistress Forbes.”
For a moment, the Senator’s face was as hard as Adele’s. It softened suddenly and she said, “Then it’s fortunate that I decided to throw in with Captain Leary, isn’t it?”
As Forbes stepped toward the hatch, she went on, “Captain, tell me about this proposition.”