“Sir – you must reconsider. It’s suicide for a sloop to take on three third class men of war. It would take the ‘hand of God,’” Commander Innes said.
Nelson understood his apprehension. “Agreed, Commander. Fortunately, God has availed us His hand in this instance.”
Innes opened his mouth, about to make protest when Nelson turned away.
“Mr Fitzsimmons?” he said.
“Man every shore boat we have and push back those meteors.”
“All of them, sir?” Fitzsimmons asked incredulously.
“No, merely create a clear channel through them. I want it wide enough for a man of war to pass through at full sail without scraping her sides.”
“Aye, sir,” Fitzsimmons said, about to move off.
“Annnd,” Nelson stressed. “Take aboard each boat as much grapeshot as they can carry.”
“The shore boats don’t have cannons, sir.”
“You will attach the grapeshot to the larger boulders either side of the channel and have them set with remote charges before you return aboard.”
Nelson turned away and slapped a hand on his helmsman’s shoulder.
“How sharp can you turn this vessel?”
A dumbfounded expression met Nelson’s stare.
“I steer better than most, sir; twelve years aboard this…”
“… I don’t want to know of your competency. How good at the wheel are you?” Nelson challenged.
The helmsman stiffened defiantly. “I could thread this vessel through the eye of a needle, if the occasion called.”
Nelson left him t to peer over the forecastle rails. The first of the shore boats flitted by the prow toward the first sizeable boulder. Five more followed within two minutes of each other, all spanning out to separate locations. For the next two hours, Nelson watched the ships beyond the belt to ensure they hadn’t moved. His shore boats returned in his peripheral vision. A few minutes later, a whistle trilled.
“All shore boats are back aboard, sir,” Fitzsimmons’ voice spoke from the intercom.
“Very good; return to the bridge.” Nelson looked to Innes. “Take us half sail to the end of the channel, Commander.”
Innes relayed the order. The Badger smoothly powered forward, easily avoiding the floating red boulders as the channel could have taken three sloops abreast of each other.
“Drop sail,” Nelson said as they approached the end.
They drifted by a massive red rock face. In close proximity, its rough surface and height made it appear like a floating cliff face.
“Attach the anchor beam to that meteor,” Nelson ordered.
“Drop anchor!” Fitzsimmons bellowed.
A thick, ropey, yellow beam shot out from the stern and attached itself to the red rock face. The Badger drifted on, causing the beam to creak as it tightened, holding the sloop fast.
“What is our next move, sir,” Innes asked.
“Gradually power up to full ahead.”
Innes tensed on the console’s lever. Engines whined, building in pitch, incurring louder creaking of the anchor beam with the added strain. A warning light flashed in red, accompanied with incessant beeping.
“We’re at full sail. and the engines are straining. Burn them out and we’ll be adrift in enemy space,” Innes warned.