“You maybe set large craft speed record for system,” Commodore Irena Markova said with a half-serious tone. “I must see if we keep such record.”
She completed the stroll around her desk and grabbed Ross’ hand to give it a vigorous pumping. They had already exchanged salutes, but hers was so absent-minded, he wasn’t sure she was aware she had done it. This handshake, he concluded, was her actual greeting.
She followed with the XO’s hand, flashed a wide grin at both and strode past them toward her office door. Caught by surprise, both men were slow to realize that she expected them to follow. They had to sprint to catch up.
To his surprise, Ross found it difficult to keep up with her. Markova was a small woman, and by no stretch of imagination a young one. Even given her advantage of little or no recent recent time in microgravity, her pace was difficult to match. She glanced over her shoulder at them, then continued her thoughts. “I send you copy of translator’s log of local Sesseem leaders’ call. Most unnerved at your display. Maybe you broke some local speed regulation.”
Ross was immediately on edge. “We cleared our course with Abernathy’s Harbor Master. Have we caused you a problem with the Sesseem?”
“Ah… not in strict sense, anyhow. ESDF responsible for Interstellar defense in this region now. Sesseem know our warships need primary right of navigation. We agree they keep system defense job here because of their colony. But agreement is, they must not interfere with interstellar defense.”
She glanced back again to toss them a broad grin. “Just say you give them screaming willies, barreling in toward this planet with such high Meta Vee. I think you push one hundred Cee coming around O-Soro.”
It took a moment for Ross to recall that O-Soro was the local name of the super-Jovian planet. 100 Cee was somewhat faster than they might have been doing that close in on their original course, but it wasn’t extreme. His ship had managed two thousand Cee a few times, the Meta Space velocity equal to 2000 times the speed of light. He was proud of that achievement. Small craft like Banshees were only trotting at that speed, but few large Human vessels had ever cleared that milestone. Although he had to admit, that had been in deep Interstellar.
Orion had spent a profusion of reaction mass to make the trip from the wreck site inward to Abernathy Station. Sailing star-ward in Meta was like navigating a sea pass against the current. Inbound at interstellar speeds, the outward pressure was a bonus, supplying much-needed braking force. From the wreck site, less than orbital velocity and only five and a half light hours from Eta Cassiopeia A, it was a serious obstacle.
Gorecki had wanted to loop outward and catch a nearby Interstellar current. She could build up the velocity needed to punch star-ward that way. Ross had overridden her. They needed to get into port in hours, not days, if there were a potential Enemy ring lurking just out-system. The builders gave strike cruisers out-sized reaction motors for good reasons. This situation was as good a reason as any.
He avoided suggesting that using brute force to make the trip offended the sail master’s sense of aesthetics. He suspected she believed he had just seen an excuse to use all three gees of Orion’s thrust. Fleet personnel tended to expect reckless behavior out of ex-Aviators. But, her expertise was much needed to plot the least time course possible on their limited mass resources, and he had told her so. He hoped that would smooth any ruffled feathers.
She had cut it close. Orion’s mass tanks were sucking vacuum coming on orbit of Tor-Emmi, but they had made it in a little over six hours. Ross, Metzger, Kuàng, and the frozen Aviator were on their way down to Abernathy Station in just under seven.
Still, Gorecki had pulled off a masterpiece. They had first reached cross-system so that the ship could turn its nose and jet sunward in the lee of O-Soro. The super-Jovian ‘shadow’ sheltered them from the hyperlight gusting outward from the star. That had allowed them to build up the speed they had by the time they popped out from behind O-Soro and frightened the c**p out of the Sesseem.
Ross and Metzger followed the commodore out of the command bunker into the light of Tor-Emmi’s sun. Their breakneck pace now had Ross wondering if he was spending too little time in Orion’s gym. The sleeping quarters were giant centrifuges, but they only made enough gee to prevent heart and bone issues. Vigorous exercise on resistance equipment was the key to keeping one’s land legs on long space trips.
“Begging the commodore’s pardon, Ma’am.” Metzger called. “Where is it we are going?”
“Well, Commander, you and skipper following Regs and Customs by coming to see me first. But I think you both rather be at hospital with girl you brought in. You will need to start there, anyway.”
“Start what, Ma’am?” Ross wondered.
“You have time to kill. Maybe you don’t heard yet, but we have to replace all that mass that you used getting here by shuttling water up from planet. Do you have any idea how much time takes to shuttle up thousand tonnes of water?”
The news shocked Ross. “What happened to the orbital depot, Ma’am?”
She laughed. “Is now orbital ice-cube. System malfunction shut down tank heaters. Too late before anyone realize. Passive cooling was working on sun side of orbit, heating not working in shadow. Cracked every tank in the facility. We can serve you iced-tea now. That’s all. Two months to repair.”
“So, while we’re waiting on the mass, you want us to do what?”
“I need intelligence assessment, fast. My photographic analyst is looking at the gun camera photos. Your chief engineer going over Banshee. Maybe the hospital will revive pilot, but who pulls everything together and says what it means? Do I have impossible size ring preparing God-only-knows out there, or just enormous carcass? Where did this Banshee come from? It isn’t a carrier version, and carriers use Efreets now anyhow, and I have no planetary version Banshee squadron in this system. Where are comrades? Is she sole survivor, or just strayed from squadron?”
She flashed her winning smile again. “I have defense to organize. Girl is your cargo, Captain, so girl is your problem. Can you say cruiser, on orbit in friendly system, requires presence of more than second officer at the moment?”
If we have a Class E ring prowling out there, Ross thought, hell, yes. But he held his tongue.
They reached the base hospital, and the conversation lagged for a moment while they made their way through the doors. On the other side, Ross made his reply.
“Of course not, Ma’am. It’s an honor to help.”
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