Today's Reading

Spotting a general-purpose console, Liam brought up the navigation assessment that the captain was monitoring on the bridge. It showed ETAs for both ships. 'Renaissance''s was being fed by real-time information and fluctuated every second, but even in its fluctuations the ETA remained sooner that its rival's.

"You're kidding me," Swift muttered. "That's our mission—to beat Celebration to the ball?"

"Shut up," Liam snapped. "We have our orders. Tell me how we can do it and get there in one piece."

Swift considered.

"Internally, I can manually go into the sail parameters and reset them so that the readouts will make it look to the bridge like we're still at full sail even if we aren't." He tapped the navigation display. "But I can't change the laws of physics—our ETA will still be delayed."

The thrust block creaked again. New red indictors flashed to life on the bottom mast.

"Change the settings," Liam ordered, "but incrementally so there isn't a big jump on the bridge displays. Start with top mast, then adjust the others from there."

"What about the nav estimates?"

"I'll figure that out."

Swift stepped away, issuing orders before busying himself at a console.

Liam stared at the nav screen. The figure for Renaissance's ETA at Passagia changed by the second, but stayed within a broad range that varied by no more than twelve hours. Even the short sailing of one mast had made an impact, a lengthening of the voyage time that was likely already tickling the captain's notice. When the shorting of the other three masts took effect, those numbers would take a dramatic turn. And even under current conditions 'Renaissance' was only tracking ten hours ahead of Celebration.

Liam stared at the numbers, not yet sure how he was going to rewrite physics and preserve Renaissance's perceived lead.

"Sir?"

The voice startled him out of his reverie. He glanced around, then down at the supply tech. She was staring up at him, her expression shy but determined.

"Yes, Master Rating?"

"One of the things we monitor in stores is the number of days left for each critical section of supply, which is dependent on how far we still have to go and how long it will take. We adjust it all the time—can't you do the same for the navigation?"

So much for not being overheard. As executive officer, he reviewed the estimated stores endurance every day. But he knew it was quite different from navigation.

"Those figures change because we adjust our burn-through rate of stores—my nav estimate is pure speed-time-distance. I can't adjust those."

"Sure you can! We adjust distance constantly, depending on where in its orbit our destination planet is."

The words to dismiss her suggestion were already forming in his throat. But then something made him pause. The nav estimate was by default based on the destination star, not the actual planet. If he could somehow change the distance parameters to reflect the planet...

"Do you know how to do that?"

She rose from her seat at the damage-control board and moved to stand next to him at the nav display. She opened up an obscure submenu and began typing in new values.

"I assume you want me to put the planet as close to us in its orbit as possible?" she asked.

"As close as the planetary limits will let you."

Within a dozen keystrokes, Liam saw the Renaissance's ETA suddenly jump forward by six hours. It was a sizable jump, but still within the range of reasonable possibility. If Captain Silverhawk was watching, the new ETA would likely please him too much for him to question it.

The supply tech finished her manipulations and straightened, admiring her handiwork with a smile. A sudden lurch of the deck knocked her into Liam, who automatically steadied her in his arms. She held on for a brief moment, then regained her stance; she was still smiling as she looked up at him.

"Will that help solve the problem, sir?"

A sailor, even a senior rating, holding the XO's gaze for so long caught Liam off guard. But it was the warmth of her gaze that really caught his attention. He felt his pulse pick up slightly, and he looked away, nodding at the nav display.

"Lucky you were on watch."

She gave him a curious look, then glanced back at the damage-control board.

"Oh, I'm not, sir. I just couldn't sleep with all the pounding, so I came down to see if I could help."

Liam knew that supply techs often manned critical displays during battle stations, to free up the propulsors to do technical and emergency work. He noted the name tag sewn onto her uniform.

"Well, Master Rating Virtue, you've helped out a lot more than you know."

"Thank you, sir."

"And if you tell anyone about what just went down, I'll run you out of the Navy."

"Yes, sir."

This excerpt ends on page 14 of the paperback edition.
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