WHEN THE TIDE RISES — snippet 11

 

WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 11:

 

 

CHAPTER 4: Bergen and Associates Yard, Cinnabar

 

            "Fellow officers," Adele said, awkwardly formal because of the awkward situation, "this is my assistant Master Cazelet. He'll lodge in the midshipmen's quarters."

            She'd called Vesey and the two midshipmen, Cory and Blantyre, to the Battle Direction Center in the corvette's stern. The senior warrant officers–Pasternak and Woetjans, Chief of Ship and Chief of Rig respectively–wouldn't have much direct contact with Cazelet, so she hadn't summoned them.

            The BDC wasn't laid out for meetings: there was a star of three consoles in the center of the chamber which could control the Sissie if the bridge in the far bow were destroyed. The aisle between the consoles and the jumpseats against the bulkheads was narrow, but there was enough room for five people to meet face to face.

            Also the BDC was out of the way of the jumble of testing and stowage before liftoff. Adele hadn't locked the armored hatch, but Tovera stood in the corridor outside; they wouldn't be disturbed.

            The watch-standing officers eyed Cazelet. Vesey, a slim woman with plain features and mouse-brown hair, showed obvious distaste. Cory, a largish, soft-looking youth of modest intellect, appeared to be disinterested. Blantyre was a stocky, forceful girl; her guarded expression reminded Adele that Mistress Boileau's grandson was rather a good looking young man.

            Cazelet for his part stood straight with his legs spread slightly and his hands clasped over his belt buckle. He looked from one officer to another, smiling with the mild hopefulness of a puppy.

            Vesey looked from Cazelet to Adele. "Is he to take instruction with the midshipmen also, then, mistress?" she said harshly. Vesey had been a skilled officer, particularly in astrogation, but she'd lacked confidence. When her fiancé died in battle, Vesey'd lost all zest for life.

            Adele smiled faintly. On the credit side, Vesey no longer dithered because she was second-guessing herself. She had instead a fatalistic willingness to accept whatever happened. Because she was so highly skilled, the results of her crisply executed plans were consistently good.

            For Vesey's sake, it was a pity that she wasn't happier. Happiness wasn't something that Adele herself had much experience of, however, and she certainly wasn't going to counsel someone else about how to achieve it.

            "That won't be necessary–" Adele began.

            "Instruction in astrogation, do you mean, Lieutenant?" Cazelet said unexpectedly.

            Vesey's eyes narrowed slightly. "Primarily astrogation, yes," she said. "Shiphandling as well, but there's not very much chance to practice that while we're under way."

            "I have some training in astrogation," Cazelet said. "And in shiphandling and Power Room operations; some, that is. I'd like to join Midshipmen Blantyre and Cory, if it's agreeable to you."

            He looked at Adele. "And with you of course, mistress," he added.

            "How did you happen to study those things?" Vesey said with a chilly lack of inflexion.

            "My family is in the shipping business," Cazelet said. "Was in business. My father wanted me to learn it from the ground up."

            He cleared his throat. "I don't compare the smatterings I've picked up to be comparable to your RCN training, of course," he added.

            Cory looked at Cazelet, then nodded to Adele. "Lady Mundy doesn't have RCN training," in a tone of challenge that surprised Adele to hear from him. "There's never been a signals officer like her before ever."

            "That's what my grandmother says too, Cory," Cazelet said. He offered a friendly smile.

            "Master Cazelet's grandmother trained me, you see, Cory," Adele said. "I'd be pleased if the three of you would make him feel at home aboard the Sissie, as Mistress Boileau did for me in the Academic Collections."

            "She did?" Cory said in amazement. "Oh. Oh."

            "Fine, I'll include him in the classes," Vesey said; still emotionless, but perhaps a degree less hostile. "Mistress, if I may–I have duties which I'd like to attend to?"

            "Yes, of course," said Adele. "Thank you all for your time. I simply thought that since we'd be in close quarters for an indefinite period, it'd be best to have a formal introduction."

            "Come along, Cazelet," Blantyre said brightly. "I'll show you to our berth."

            Cazelet looked back at Adele; when she nodded, he followed Blantyre through the hatch that Vesey had just pushed open. Cory trailed out in the wake of the others.

            That'd gone well enough, Adele thought. The boy should fit in.

***

            Daniel luxuriated in the familiar contact between his back and the Sissie's command console. He grinned: this was home. The corvette had been his first command, and he knew that she'd always be first in his heart.

            Along the bulkhead to his right were Sun at the gunnery console and Adele on signals. In theory the captain could slave the functions of every other station to himself at the command console; in practice, nobody else could enter Signals while Adele was aboard the Princess Cecile. The chores could be handled from either the command console or the Battle Direction Center, but it was impossible to gain access to the files stored in Adele's territory.

            Cory sat at the navigator's console to Daniel's immediate left, though heaven help the Sissie if he had to pilot them home.

            Daniel pursed his lips in disapproval of the thought. That wasn't fair: under his tutelage and Vesey's, Cory was becoming a decent astrogator. Oh, he didn't have a flair for the task, but he'd pass his boards for promotion to Lieutenant when he had a chance to sit for them. And Cory did, of all things, have real skill at communications–though that was properly the duty of a junior warrant, not a commissioned officer.

            The remaining bridge console was the Chief Missileer's, filled at present by a former Pellegrinian named Borries. Daniel had run Borries through a lengthy series of tests and found him to be surprisingly good–better than most who came out of the RCN specialty school at Harbor Three near Xenos. Despite that, Daniel didn't intend for the fellow to actually control the corvette's primary armament in action.

            Daniel had a touch which turned attacks into an art form–and besides, he liked launching missiles. Borries was on hand in case Daniel was incapacitated or too madly busy elsewhere to handle the task.

            Vesey was in the BDC with Blantyre and three ratings, ready to take over if there was any reason that they should. Daniel rechecked the gauges on his holographic display. All hatches were sealed and the pumps were purring to circulate reaction mass. He hadn't ordered Pasternak to light the plasma thrusters yet, however.

            "Center," Daniel said. His display immediately threw up the images of six personnel in the BDC. The last face puzzled him for an instant; then he realized it was Adele's new assistant, using the display on his commo helmet because there wasn't a console open for him. "Vesey, will you and your team be ready to take her up in five minutes, over?"

            "Aye aye, sir," Vesey said. Her voice was neutral, but a touch of pleasure lifted the corners of her mouth. That was as close to a smile as Daniel had seen her give since Miranda's brother died.

            "You have the conn, Vesey," he said. "Out."

            Daniel paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. How many times had he addressed his crew before liftoff? Many, certainly, but every time was different; like a battle, like maneuvering closer to another woman….

            "Ship," he said. When he switched the intercom to the general communications channel, a multi-pointed star pulsed in the upper right of the display. If he moved the cursor onto it with his virtual keyboard, the real-time images of everybody aboard the Sissie would flash into life just as those in the BDC had done a moment earlier. In so doing, they'd mask the entire display. Daniel preferred to have the Power Room readouts as background to his thoughts.

            "We're about to lift again, Sissies," he said, smiling easily. The crew, all those who weren't involved in the liftoff itself, were watching him even though he didn't see them. "Again, I say, because most of you've been with me for years by now. Those of you who're new to the Sissie–congratulations! You've signed aboard the finest ship in the RCN, which means the finest ship in the whole human universe."

            The corvette shuddered heavily; Vesey had directed Pasternak to light two of the eight thrusters. They were on minimum output for the moment, the petals of each nozzle flared wide. Steam from the pool bloomed around the hull, mixing with iridescent exhaust ions which hadn't yet been damped by the atmosphere.

            "I've been under orders not to tell you where we're lifting for," Daniel continued, "so I haven't; but most of you've been around long enough to have learned what our lords and masters in Navy House have not: you can't keep a secret in the RCN."

            He heard the laughter and mild cheers he'd been playing for. A speech to people you're leading into battle is always a political speech, and nothing political is to be done without care. Corder Leary's son knew that, and–though Daniel didn't let the thought stiffen his face into a stern mask as it started to–the late Lucius Mundy's daughter probably knew it even better.

            "For the record now…," Daniel continued. A second pair of thrusters lighted. "We're going to Pelosi in the Bagarian Cluster to help the rebels there organize against the Alliance."

            He paused for effect, letting two more thrusters rumble into life. Even with them all on low output, the Sissie was rocking on her outriggers.

            "That's for the record," Daniel said. "What I say to you, fellow spacers, is that were being sent to stiffen some wog pricks. And no better crew in the RCN to do it. Is that right?"

            "Right-t-t-t!" echoed through the corvette's passageways, punctuated by a few examples of "Yee-ha!" and less identifiable cheers.

            "On the way there, we're going to touch down on Diamondia for reaction mass," he said. Adele would pick up the latest available information about Bagaria there, though he didn't say that. Diamondia received a constant trickle of Bagarian blockade runners. "We'll also have a chance to stretch our legs–and other things than legs, I shouldn't wonder–in a civilized place."

            The final pair of thrusters lighted. They were running smoothly, all within the 98th percentile. Mon's workmen had done the sort of job he expected of them. Daniel was pleased to co-own Bergen and Associates, even though that associate was his father Corder Leary.

            "Now, I can't tell you how long the cruise is going to last," Daniel said. This was the nub of the speech; for his own conscience he had to tell his crew the truth, but he didn't plan to let them dwell on it. "It may be a long one. What I do know is that the Bagarian Cluster is bloody rich. With a war on, which there is, some of those riches are going to find their way into the pockets of likely spacers who know shiphandling and know how to fight. Now, do you know any spacers who fit that bill, Sissies?"

            We do/Bloody well yes/Cinnabar forever! bounced and echoed through the corvette.

            "I thought you might!" boomed Daniel. A green light glowed behind the Ship Readiness icon. "Lieutenant Vesey, you may lift ship."

            And as the thruster apertures tightened to provide full power, Daniel shouted over the intercom, "RCN forever!"

 

About Eric Flint

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