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Fanner Rigs hugged the visioner at his station, fascinated and horrified at once at the sight of the enemy fleet that faced them. The enormity of the task was overwhelming: How could they hope to challenge the Doxtap Fleet, in all the pride of the Jurisdiction's might?
The Bench had left no choice for them.
They had to try.
Eild was their homeworld, and the orbiting artillery platforms that defended it had to be protected from destruction by those mighty warships if Eild was to have any hope of remaining free.
"Our target." It was his brother's voice on intership, Marder's voice. On this little courier they almost didn't need the intership to hear each other -- the ship was tiny, built for speed and maneuverability, both of which were crucial to its intended task. They had to get past their target's own defenses, its Wolnadis, after all.
And the Wolnadi fighters were visible even now, clearing the maintenance atmosphere and coming toward them at frightening speed.
"Jurisdiction Fleet Ship Scylla," Sonnu's clear calm voice confirmed. It was useful to remember that Sonnu was there. Fanner had often fantasized about marrying with Sonnu, if he could catch her eye for long enough to make his case with her. This was his chance to show her his true mettle.
And still it was a desperate enterprise.
They all knew that.
His party had the most desperate part of it, for while the others in the attack on Scylla were to draw the Wolnadis off toward the carapace hull -- the topmost shell of the warship -- his party was to feint for the carapace, and slip at the last minute through theatmosphere barrier into Scylla's maintenance atmosphere, beneath the ship.
They had the schematic firmly fixed in mind.
If they could only be quick and nimble enough about it, agile and canny enough about it, slip through the startled defenses of the maintenance atmosphere -- Scylla could not fire upon itself, for fear of damage to the ship --
To fail meant death.
To succeed meant death as well, because if they won through to the main battle guns they could destroy Scylla, and everybody on it. Including them.
He would never marry with Sonnu now, but if he could be part of the freedom of port Eild it would not even matter.
"Initiate tactical plan," Marder said; and Fanner engaged the overthrust boosters on the courier, and sent it leaping forward.
Toward Scylla, and their death.
If they could only take Scylla with them it was worth it.
Snatching a breath as best he could in the close quarters of Scylla's maintenance corridors, Joslire Curran steeled himself for the next desperate sprint. He couldn't stop for long enough to catch his breath. He couldn't afford to. There were Nurail sappers in the corridors, they'd breached the maintenance hull and gotten in through the maintenance atmosphere and if Joslire and his team couldn't stop them in time --
Kaydence Psimas came up on Joslire's left and nudged Joslire's shoulder with his elbow, wordlessly. Joslire nodded toward the access to the recirculation systems, and Kaydence grinned and went, dropping to a roll halfway across the corridor as he was fired on. Joslire checked the cross-fire zone with a swift movement of his head: no blood on the deck. So maybe Kaydence was unharmed.
The Nurail would know where to watch for them now, though, and there was nothing they could do but get across as quickly as they could. The Nurail sappers had only left one man to try to slow them down. The rest of the party would be three corridors away by now.
The only thing that stood between Scylla and destruction was the fact that men who knew the ship's architecture from living there could navigate more quickly than anyone else.
Kaydence fired back down the corridor at the Nurail who had pinned them there, as much to remind his fellows that he was waiting as to encourage the Nurail to go away. Erish Muat went across, stumbling on the decking and sliding to safety, Kaydence covering him with a shot. They couldn't afford to use full charge on board ship for fear of starting a fire. The enemy didn't care.
Toska Bederico brought up the rear, but there was no fire at all from the Nurail, so maybe Kaydence had shot him down. It didn't really matter. All that mattered was getting through to the main battle guns before the Nurail sappers could get there.
The main battle guns -- lateral cannons forward, in this case -- could not be turned back toward Scylla's interior. But they could be spiked. And the resulting explosion would destroy everything within a standard orbital.
Down the cross-corridors now to foodstores three. The sappers were taking the main access corridor, but the back wall of foodstores forward abutted a wastechute that could be vented into armory two levels above. The sappers wouldn't be able to use the lifts. The lifts had been shut down by Engineering as soon as they'd realized that the crew of the small Nurail scout ship that had cleared the maintenance atmosphere had shot its way in to the maintenance corridors.
It would take the Nurail time to break into the access hatch beside the lift nexus and squeeze through the narrow laddered way. Maybe it would take the sappers enough time for Joslire's team to get through to the cannons before the Nurail did.
Shoot out the secures on foodstores forward door four, struggle through the half-opened door into the room. Joslire took refuge with Erish and Kaydence behind a shelf full of soup concentrate cartons. Toska piled up a hasty barricade of flour boxes to crouch behind and fired point-blank at the back wall.
There'd been no time to clear the shelves.Prisoner of Conscience. Copyright � by Susan Matthews. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.