Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 36
“This ship…” Adele said, highlighting the largest vessel, “is the Mezentian Gate, a three-thousand ton freighter out of Rosecrans, carrying a rolling mill to Peltry where she was captured in orbit. She is owned by her captain and in the past has carried a total of fifteen crew.”
She moved the highlight to the pair of small ships near the captive. “Neither of these ships has a name,” she said, “but one has the legend 16 painted on both sides of its bow. They are two of the ships which were loitering above Peltry. Captain Vesey — ” as she was while in command of the Princess Cecile ” — informs me that they are 600 ton general purpose craft configured to tow cargoes in the Matrix. Normally that means asteroids, but they towed a freighter full of water to the Peltry system. And this –”
Adele shifted the imagery to the other village and the vessel there. “This is the Roebuck, an eighteen-hundred ton freighter,” she said. “The third pirate vessel. The Roebuck mounts a basket of eight bombardment rockets and is the only armed pirate.”
“The Mezentian Gate was waiting for landing clearance and was taken unawares,” Daniel said, answering a question that Adele hadn’t thought to ask. “A rocket hit near the bow, starting seams. Captain Chidsey had the choice of landing a damaged ship without ground control, or surrendering to the pirates. The pirates put a crew aboard and brought the prize to Benjamin, over.”
“I have no evidence of where the crew of the captive is being kept,” Adele said. “I would be able to pick up radio signals at this distance, but I don’t find any evidence of such signals. Though both villages have smelters, neither seems to be using its fusion bottle to power electric lights. The residents are subsisting at a very low cultural level.”
She cleared her throat. “I believe that’s all I have to say,” Adele said. “Captain Leary, I’m turning the briefing over to you.”
“Spacers of the Nabis Contingent,” Daniel said. Adele noticed again his way of sounding both friendly and in charge. “I’m going to keep this short, because we’ll sort out the attack details on the ground. We’ll be setting down initially a hundred miles west of our targets. If we’re noticed there by locals, it won’t matter since planetary communication on Benjamin is at the smoke-signal level.”
He paused, his image on Adele’s display looking to right and left. Daniel had miniatures of the assembled crews on his screen, almost 400 faces. That was too many people to see as individuals, but the same would have been true if they were on a parade ground in front of him.
“When we go in, it’ll be hard and fast,” Daniel said. “In the best traditions of the Nabis Contingent. For now, dismissed!”
On the Sissie’s command channel, Vesey said, “Ship, prepare for insertion. We’ll extract in Benjamin orbit. Out.”
The Captain’s Great Cabin on the Katchaturian embarrassed Daniel because it was, well, great. It wasn’t just that the destroyer was almost twice the size of a corvette like the Princess Cecile. The Katchaturian had been built on Novy Sverdlovsk, where the distinctions between commissioned officers and everybody else were extreme. A Cinnabar-built destroyer would have applied half this cabin’s volume to crew accommodations.
Daniel looked around the table at his officers and smiled. Reforming the social structure of Novy Sverdlovsk was no part of his duties to either Cinnabar or the Tarbell Stars, and the cabin was extremely useful for Daniel to address all his officers in privacy and comfort.
“Fellow Sissies,” Daniel said, and his grin softened: everyone in the cabin now was former RCN. “We’ll be attacking the two villages simultaneously. The ships will lift from here, take curving courses and keep low, then land a mile from their targets. The Katchaturian will take the village we’re calling Alpha where the captured ship is, the Sissie’s party will take Beta. The locals themselves don’t have names for the villages, as best Officer Mundy can tell.”
“Which means the locals don’t have names for them,” Cory said. Daniel joined in the chorus of chuckles around the table.
Adele was the only RCN officer not present in the flesh. She had said she could join in if needed through the cabin’s display and that she didn’t want to leave her console on the Sissie’s bridge. Daniel had deferred to her opinion, though it would have led to a short discussion if anybody else had said that to him. Nabis officers provided the anchor watches and were assembling the combined crews on the ground between the two ships.
“Six?” said Woetjans, her forehead wrinkled with the effort of getting her mind around a concept. “Why so far out? I mean, I don’t mind a hike, but you and Vesey could drop right in the middle of the places, right? Or a hundred feet out so we don’t burn ’em up, anyway.”
“We don’t want to burn the huts up, that’s true,” Daniel said, “because we don’t know where the prisoners are being kept. We’re all spacers, and the worst these poor bastards from Rosecrans did was sign on with a captain who was more concerned with making port than he was of being ambushed by pirates.”
Nods and grunts of agreement greeted the partial explanation, but Cory and Hale remained still-faced. They clearly realized there was more to come.
“The mile is a compromise,” Daniel continued. “It’s far enough out, especially if we stay low, that it probably won’t alarm the locals, but it’s close enough for the assault parties to hoof it without being too winded by the time they get into position. Remember, we’re landing on sand over rock, not water. Our exhaust will heat the ground molten. It’ll be a good half hour before we can disembark.”
Everybody nodded this time. Cory and Hale wore broad grins besides.
“The assault parties will include all our Nabis personnel and all the Sissies except an anchor watch,” Daniel said. “I’ll be leading Alpha Party, Cory will lead Beta. We’ll –”
“Sir, why you?” said Cory. “I mean, we all know you’re not afraid, but I think I speak for everybody –”
“You bloody well do!” from Dasi; nods and murmurs of agreement around the table.
“– when I say that if some drunken wog gets lucky and blows your brains out, this whole cluster wouldn’t be a fair exchange.”
“Thank you, Master Cory,” Daniel said, “but you’re missing the point. Our current task is to train the Nabis Contingent, particularly the officers. That means demonstrating what leadership means. I’m confident that there are already sufficient officers in the Tarbell Stars who can demonstrate sitting on their butts and sending other people out to die.”
“Sorry, sir,” Cory muttered, jerking bolt-upright and meeting Daniel’s eyes. “Very sorry, sir.”
As well you should be, Daniel thought, but he forced his lips into a smile and as usual his mind followed after a moment. He wanted his people to be cocky and sure that they were the best in the world, but bragging couldn’t get in the way of doing the job. When you parsed out what Cory had said, he was bragging.
“Six,” said Vesey. “I should lead Beta Party.”
Bloody hell, she’s right.
Vesey was seated to Daniel’s immediate right; he stared at her without expression. She didn’t flinch, which showed — Daniel’s smile was internal — that she had guts. That hadn’t been in doubt.
“Yes, you’re right,” Daniel said. “Cory –”
Across the table from Vesey.
“– you’ll still transfer to the Sissie, but you’ll remain in command of her. I want somebody experienced there, because Officer Mundy is our communications and intelligence base.”
“Sir, may I request to accompany Beta Party?” Cazelet said. “I know I’ve had problems pulling the trigger in the past, but I’ll be carrying a length of pipe this time instead of a gun.”
Somebody chuckled. Woetjans glowered and said, “Bloody useful piece of kit, a pipe.”