What Distant Deeps | Chapter 27 of 34 - Part: 1 of 5

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

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CHAPTER 23

Zenobia System

Daniel’s mind reentered, meshed with—the process reminded him of registering a transparency over another image—his body. His limbs felt cold, and his eyes didn’t focus for a moment.

“Ship, this is Six,” he said. The effort of speaking brought him fully back to himself. “I expect the wogs to come after us this time—probably just a few cutters, but maybe the whole fleet. Gunners, after the second destroyer appears, hit everything that extracts. Missileers, we may have a heavy cruiser close aboard in a few minutes. I won’t pretend I’m looking forward to that, but I want you plotting trajectories to each anomaly as it forms. If it’s a cutter, switch to the next.”

Daniel’s lips were dry, but he felt a leaping excitement that nothing but battle could give him. This was a terrible situation: the Sissie was facing opponents who could clearly beat her at her own game, precise maneuvers in the Matrix and point-blank engagements. But by the gods, if any ship could pull it off, it was this ship and this crew!

“If either of the heavy ships appears,” Daniel continued, “launch as soon as you have a solution. Chazanoff, I’m not usurping your authority as Chief Missileer, but if the target Fiducia is solving for turns out to be the Piri Reis or Turgut, he doesn’t need to ask your permission or mine either one. Acknowledge, over.”

“Roger, Six!” said Fiducia.

“Roger, Six,” said Chazanoff. The chief’s response wasn’t so much an echo as a dull counterfeit of his mate’s.

Daniel grinned. He knew exactly how Chazanoff felt. If Captain Leary hadn’t had more to do in the early seconds following extraction than any three people could manage, he would be computing missile attacks himself.

And directing the gun turrets also, of course, as Sun and Rocker well knew. Daniel handled the plasma cannon skillfully, but he couldn’t pretend he was actually better than the Sissie’s gunner or gunner’s mate: they practiced constantly while the corvette was in the Matrix, running imagery of past engagements as well as simulations. Even so, it would have required a real effort of will for Daniel not to lock out the gunnery consoles and lay the pippers on target himself.

The Z 46 arrived less than thirty seconds after the Princess Cecile. She was shaking out additional sails.

Daniel was running the corvette with a minimum rig: topsails on A and E rings only. If the Piri Reis did appear close alongside, he was going to regret not having a full suit of sails to absorb the initial wracking salvo of plasma bolts. A single hit from the cruiser’s 15-cm weapons could dish in the Sissie’s hull at five thousand miles, and the multiple hits likely if the Palmyrene gunner knew his business would finish the corvette at much greater range.

But the more probable danger came from cutters, and the best defense against them was the corvette’s gunfire. Daniel had decided to give his plasma cannon the best field of fire possible by limiting the arcs that sails would block.

Besides, fewer sails meant fewer riggers on the hull to handle their problems. Daniel would much rather have kept his entire crew inside, but the Sissie was going to have to maneuver with precision to survive. Woetjans was on the hull—it was the bosun’s job, and she wouldn’t obey orders to stay inside while some of her personnel were facing danger—with four of her most experienced riggers.

If something jammed, that team would clear it; and if they had known that a hail of rockets and plasma bolts would scour the hull clean, they would still be out there. It was their job, and among the Sissies, duty was more important than life.

It made absolutely no sense at all, except to other people who were or had been members of a crack combat unit. Then it made all the sense in the world.

The Piri Reis, then the Turgut, extracted within a hundred miles of one another and about thirteen thousand miles above Zenobia. Instants later, the Palmyrene cutters began to appear about their heavy vessels like ripples shimmering on a pond.

The Alliance flagship was only a thousand miles distant: Daniel had brought the Princess Cecile closer to the rendezvous point than he had the first time because he expected that the little squadron would be better off tight together to supply supporting fire. A single ship might be mobbed by a score of cutters and have her rig blown off by rockets.

Space-time dimpled between the Sissie and the Z 46. The second Alliance destroyer—

But it wasn’t.

“Target!” Daniel shouted, highlighting the cutter which crystallized out of the infinite possible.

“I’m on it! I’m on it!” Sun cried. That wasn’t quite true, but the rumble of the dorsal turret rotating the necessary thirty degrees was comforting proof that he would be shortly.

Another anomaly four hundred miles away made the stars beyond it quiver. “Targeting!” Rocker said as the ventral turret turned also. “Targeting, I’m on it!”

The first anomaly became a Palmyrene cutter, sharp and squarely broadside to the Princess Cecile but with her axis cocked up by fifteen degrees. The corvette was drawing ahead under 1 g acceleration in parallel with the Z 46, but the cutter’s rocket basket pivoted to lead her target expertly.

The Palmyrene captain stood in his pulpit in the far bow. If I boosted the magnification, his face would be as clear to me as the scratches on his visor allowed, Daniel thought.

The middle of the cutter’s hull went bright, then exploded outward. A single rocket spat out of the conflagration. It vanished from the image area and from the Sissie’s concern. Sun’s second plasma bolt stirred the luminous gas cloud, but its energy could add nothing to the holocaust.

The recoil of the two shots was echoing through the ship. Daniel hadn’t noticed the Whang/whang! when the guns fired.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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