What Distant Deeps — Snippet 15

What Distant Deeps — Snippet 15

The Princess Cecile began to shudder, and a low roar permeated the ship. Stains on the bulkheads blurred from the vibration.

Clothilde jumped up again. “Is something wrong?” she asked in a tone that meant, “Are we all going to die?”

“Chief Pasternak is testing the thrusters,” Adele said. “Which he wouldn’t do unless he and Captain Leary believed that everything is in order. It does mean that I need to return to my station, however.”

Clothilde sucked her lower lip in and nodded. “Thank you, Officer Mundy,” she said.

“If I may volunteer some advice,” Adele said, “your husband will need all the help he can get to be sure of obtaining a better posting for his next assignment.”

“He’ll have it,” Clothilde said as she followed Adele out of the compartment. “And thank you again.”

Adele Mundy understood better than most how much everyone needed help. Some of us need the help of others just to find a reason for going on with life.

* * *

Daniel Leary, captain of the Cinnabar-registered private yacht Princess Cecile, stretched by working his muscles against the couch of his command console. He grinned and on a whim shrank his holographic display to look sternward across the bridge.

All eight thrusters were running at half volume with the petals of their Stellite nozzles fully open. Their plasma exhaust sprayed into the water of Harbor Three, dissipating its energy as steam, while two great pumps in the vessel’s stern refilled the reaction mass tanks from the harbor. The noise would have been deafening if the commo helmets hadn’t had active sound cancellation; vibration made loose objects walk across flat surfaces.

Everything was as it should be. Daniel was in his element.

He’d lifted the Princess Cecile hundreds of times by now, and he’d commanded much bigger ships. There was still a unique thrill to this moment, a visceral memory of the first time they’d lifted from Kostroma — a newly made lieutenant at the controls of a corvette which had never been close to anything more dangerous than the fireworks of a national celebration.

They’d showed the Alliance fireworks on that day, and on many later days.

Daniel grinned. The Republic was at peace now, and that was a good thing; a necessary thing if the civil government was to survive. But by the gods, the Sissie and her crew had proved themselves against anything the Alliance could throw at them!

Sun, the Gunner and one of the original Sissies, sat at the console to Daniel’s immediate left. With the record he’d compiled in the years since, he could choose his own assignment, up to and probably including a battleship.

Sun had chosen to stay with the Princess Cecile and her meager two pairs of 4-inch cannon: a turret on the dorsal bow and another in the ventral stern. He liked using his guns, not just having the rank of gunner. If Captain Leary was commanding a corvette, then Sun was happy to be gunner on a corvette.

On most warships, the Chief Missileer would be at the Attack Console on the port side of the bridge. Because Daniel liked to control at least the initial launches himself, that warrant officer — Chazanoff, on a corvette rated as a missileer’s mate — was in the Battle Direction Center in the stern. The Sissie would be fought from the BDC if the bridge were destroyed.

At the console here sat an engineering tech named Fiducia who was striking for a missileer’s rating. He was compulsively checking the status of the Sissie’s missiles, the two ready to launch in her tubes and the eighteen additional rounds in her magazines. A corvette’s punch was minuscule compared with the eighty and more missiles which a battleship could launch in a single salvo, but used shrewdly she could be effective.

Daniel grinned. Many of the Republic’s enemies could testify to how effective the Sissie had been in the past.

Lieutenant Cory was at the Astrogation Console to Daniel’s immediate right; there was unlikely to be anything for him to do in that line. Lieutenant Vesey, in the BDC as normal for the First Lieutenant, had started as an exceptionally skilled astrogator and had become better: long service with Daniel Leary had taught her to read the Matrix the way his uncle, Stacey Bergen, had taught him.

But Cory’s position wasn’t as much of a joke as it would have seemed a few years ago. He had become a pretty fair astrogator, which initially Daniel would have said was as unlikely as a pig learning to dance ballet.

The final console on the bridge was Signals. Midshipman Cazelet, in the backup position in the BDC, could do everything an ordinary signals officer did. Nobody — nobody in the human universe, in Daniel’s considered opinion — could equal Adele. The chance that brought her and Daniel together had been fortunate for both of them, and more fortunate still for the Republic of Cinnabar.

Daniel stretched again. Everything that could be checked in harbor was in the green. The thrusters’ steady output was rocking the Sissie as plasma boiled away the water in which she floated. The input hoses had withdrawn into the hull.

“Ship,” said Daniel on the general push, “this is Six. We will lift under my control in thirty, that is three-zero, seconds. Prepare to lift.”

“Ready/ready/ready,” replied Pasternak, Vesey, and Woetjans.

The bosun stood in the forward rotunda with a crew of riggers wearing hard suits. They were prepared to go onto the hull as soon as the Sissie reached orbit. The antennas and sails were hydraulically controlled, but the hard knocks the rigs took on liftoff through an atmosphere meant that there were always kinked cables and frozen joints to clear.

“Ship,” said Daniel, his left hand on the throttle control of his virtual keyboard, “we are lifting –”

He ran the thrusters up to full output; then, with his right hand, he sphinctered the thruster nozzles to narrow aperture.

“Now!”

The Princess Cecile trembled thunderously, then started to rise. Daniel laughed with joy. It was pure magic and wonder, this time and every time.

“Up Cinnabar!” he shouted, and the crew’s triumphant cries echoed him.

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