What Distant Deeps | Chapter 23 of 34 - Part: 1 of 5

Author: David Drake | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1598 Views | Add a Review

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Above Zenobia

“Extracting in thirty, repeat, three-zero seconds,” said Cazelet. Daniel had left Vesey in control of entry into Zenobian space, and she had apparently passed the duty on to the midshipman under her in the Battle Direction Center.


Daniel’s body jangled excruciatingly, as though all of his bones had shattered and the splinters were migrating outward through his muscles; he felt his breath catch. Then the Princess Cecile was in sidereal space, a Plot Position Indicator filled the center of the command display, and the ripping, blazing pain was done for the time being.

Each extraction was different. Daniel didn’t recall one of what were by now many hundreds which he could describe as pleasant, though many hadn’t been really painful. He’d been in the airlock when the Sissie dropped onto the Palmyrene convoy; that time he’d felt as though his body had dissolved into soap bubbles which were leaking through the joints of his hard suit. That had been disconcerting but not awful.

He shook himself. This time had been awful, but it was over and he had work to do.

The destroyer Z 46 was in powered orbit around the planet, holding at 1 g to maintain the health of her crew. She was already hailing the Princess Cecile. A text crawl across the bottom of Daniel’s display read, Unidentified vessel, this is AFS Z 46. State your business, over.

More interesting to Daniel as a tactician was the Z 42, the other element of the Fleet’s Zenobia detachment. She was in freefall orbit, trailing the outermost of Zenobia’s three tiny moons closely enough that vessels with poor sensor suites might not distinguish ship from satellite. Daniel hadn’t been aboard a Palmyrene cutter, but similar vessels in the local trade of other regions had poor electronics throughout.

Adele was already speaking forcefully to someone on the other end of her connection, but Daniel knew that only by the way her lips moved. She’d raised the sound-cancelling privacy curtain around her console, and she wasn’t copying him on the transmission.

Cory, at the astrogation console, looked groggy from the extraction, but his voice was firm as he said, “Z 46, this is Cinnabar yacht Princess Cecile returning to Zenobia. Please hold for Captain Leary, over.”

Cory had copied his transmission to Daniel on a two-way link instead of using the command channel to inform the other officers as Adele might have done, but that wasn’t so serious a problem that it had to be corrected immediately. Captain von Gleuck could be a serious problem. Daniel didn’t need close-up imagery to know that both Alliance destroyers were targeting the newcomer with guns and missiles.

“AFS Z 46, this is Daniel Leary, over,” Daniel said. His voice had the cheerful lilt that came naturally to him. He was juggling a great number of plates, but for the moment they remained in the air.

“Go ahead, Leary,” said a different voice through the modulated-laser link. “This is von Gleuck, over.”

“Otto...,” said Daniel. He’d hoped that von Gleuck himself would be on the circuit—hoped so hard that he could almost say that he’d counted on it. Though if necessary, he would have managed; it was an article of faith with him that he would manage. “Very shortly there’ll be five Cinnabar freighters—”

A red caret pulsed on the PPI at a point 280,000 miles from Zenobia. Nothing was at that place now. Vesey had highlighted the disruption in sidereal space-time which indicated that a vessel was preparing to extract from the Matrix there.

“—arriving, and I think one is doing so as we speak. I ask you as the senior Alliance officer present to allow these ships to land on Zenobia under my supervision. You have my word that this course will have the best long-term result for the continuance of the present friendship between our nations. Ah—and for the independence of Zenobia also, though that isn’t my primary concern at present. Leary over.”

The problem—which Autocrator Irene had very carefully contrived—was the transports. While the troops aboard them were clearly hostile and could be dealt with as violently as von Gleuck pleased, the hulls and at least some of the ships’ officers were entitled to the protection of the Republic of Cinnabar.

There had been Senators, and there were many Cinnabar citizens, who opposed the Treaty of Rheims. The destruction of Cinnabar ships and lives would almost certainly reignite the war.

There was a noticeable silence, during which the caret on the display became a blip bearing the legend Sarah H. Gerdis. Someone aboard the Z 46 hailed the transport: the signals officer, most likely, operating on the instructions he’d received when the destroyer took station.

Cory would have done the same. Adele, however, would have been auditing the captains’ discussion and might have let the challenge wait.

But Adele was otherwise occupied. Well, whatever she was doing was in the best interests of the Republic; and in this case, probably the best interests of the Alliance as well.

“Captain Leary,” von Gleuck said at last. “I trust you, and I’m going to act on that trust. If I’m mistaken, I hope my ghost drags you down to Hell, because I don’t expect my body to survive this afternoon. Z 46 out.”

“Leary out,” said Daniel. “Break. Gerdis, this is Princess Cecile. Acknowledge, over.”

“Princess Cecile, this is Cinnabar vessel Sarah H. Gerdis,” said the freighter’s captain in a tone of tightly controlled anger. “We have carried out your illegal instructions to the letter. Are we clear to land, over?”

Daniel grinned despite the situation. The captain of the Gerdis had balls, and he and his crew were surprisingly able to have arrived so soon after the Sissie. Granted, Daniel had remained almost four additional hours at the way point until the Bonaventure finally got under way; but even so, a civilian vessel’s economically small crew simply couldn’t shave minutes in the Matrix by taking advantage of minute variations in the gradients between universes.

I’ll buy him a drink after this is all over and done with, Daniel thought, grinning even wider. Assuming, of course.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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