Today's Reading

The deck rattled once again. Liam studied the mast status panel.

"Looks like we might need to break out a replacement set of sails, sir."

"So long as we don't reduce speed, Lord Blackwood." Silverhawk turned threatening eyes toward Liam. "I've already told that odious little man, Swift, that we are not slowing down."

"Of course, sir."

"Renaissance is the newest, fastest ship in the fleet," Silverhawk continued. "I will not question her might just because of a storm. We will carry on at full speed."

Here in deep space, the ship didn't really have a "speed" that could be accurately measured, since there was nothing close enough against which to measure it. What Silverhawk really cared about, Liam knew, even though his captain didn't, was Renaissance's velocity relative to its target, Passagia. And even that was only relative to the main star, not the second planet—Passagia II—upon which the royal ball was to be held. The only number that actually mattered in this fool's game was the computer-calculated time it would take for Renaissance to reach orbit around Passagia II—and whether it was less than the estimated time for Celebration to do the same.

Liam glanced out through the transparent deckhead again, assessing the now-steady lean of the top mast as solar wind from a dozen stars channeled into a maelstrom against it. Silverhawk hadn't even noticed.

But now that Liam knew where the captain's main focus lay, a plan coalesced in his mind.

"Sir," he said, "I recommend we batten down completely for this transit. I wouldn't want Renaissance's lines to be marred by wind damage, especially if we end up being moored next to the royal yacht."

"Good idea, Blackwood. Let's keep her looking pretty as we set a new speed record for the Navy."

Liam barked the order to one of the bridge crew, who in turn relayed it to propulsion. Battening down meant that an outer layer of plating was extended over all exposed areas of the hull, including the bridge canopy. At least that would help secure the ship against the maelstrom—until she was ripped in half.

Liam knew there was no further point in him being on the bridge. He needed to get somewhere that could actually affect the ship's fate.

"I'll supervise propulsion, sir. Make sure they don't slacken off."

Silverhawk didn't reply. That usually meant he didn't object, and Liam didn't wait for more. He lurched forward to ensure that the crew had begun deploying the thin shield of armor over the bridge's transparent canopy. Once that was done, the captain wouldn't be able to see what Liam did next.

Propulsion control was three decks down from the bridge and forward—in the exact center of the ship's hull. As Liam scrambled down the last ladder he could hear the swell of noise growing from the orders and shouts of a crew working frantically over the steady, awful creak of the masts shifting against their braces. Here, in the heart of the ship, the four masts came together into a massive, cross-shaped thrust block where all the forces pressing into the sails were transferred into the forward motion of the ship. Each arm of the cross was designed to have some, usually microscopic, flexibility as the forces differed on each mast. As Liam descended the ladder he heard a mighty, metallic groan as the highest arm of the cross visibly shifted.

He stepped down to the hard deck and pushed his way forward.
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