WHEN THE TIDE RISES — snippet 21

 

WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 21:

 

 

Morning City on Pelosi

 

            "Don't look so glum, Woetjans," said Daniel as the crowd in holiday clothing cheered the procession. "We certainly can't complain that they're not friendly, can we?"

            Daniel, Blantyre, and Cory waved from the front of a red-draped flatbed trailer pulled by an eight-wheeled farm tractor from which bunting fluttered. Twenty armed spacers under the bosun stood around the edges of the trailer. They were in liberty suits, utilities decorated with multi-colored ribbons and patches, but it was hard to retain a festive expression when a mob kept pushing itself at you.

            The male citizens lining the parade route were in business suits. Most wore black stovepipe hats with feathers stuck in the band. The women's dresses were in primary colors; frequently several children clung to the full skirts of mothers who threw handfuls of filmy, metallic-looking strips. When breezes flicked them over the procession, Daniel saw that they were leaves; their silvery veins stood out on a shimmering bronze background.

            Adele and Tovera stood to the rear of the commissioned officers. Adele wore a set of Grays, while her servant was in a plain suit–beige rather than the off-white she usually affected.

            Adele watched him with a faint smile. He supposed she was amused that he was looking at the local vegetation while everybody in Morning City was cheering Daniel Leary like the arrival of a god.

            Daniel grinned, then resumed waving to the crowd. Odd about Tovera being so drab; poisonous insects usually wore bright colors.

            "They're friendly," Woetjans muttered in frustration. "Too bloody friendly. The next time one a' these women tries to climb past me to kiss the great hero–begging your pardon, sir–I'm going to pop her in the mouth instead've pushing 'er back to 'er husband. Even if she's got a little sprat in her arms like the last one."

            "I have every confidence you'll continue to be a disciplined spacer whom I can trust as my bosun, Woetjans," Daniel said in carefully molded reproof. "In any case, we've reached the House of Assembly and won't have to worry about the crowd any more."

            When Pelosi was part of the Alliance, it'd had a local Assembly to advise the Legate, who in turn reported to the Cluster Governor. The legates generally ignored the Assemblymen, but the hall provided a suitable venue for the new Congress of the Republic.

            Though the square in front of the building was packed, lines of men wearing scraps of uniform held open a corridor down which the tractor and trailer drove toward the temporary stand in front of the main entrance. Many of the soldiers were barefoot and carried short pikes instead of guns, but almost all of them wore a beret with a black, red, or white plume.

            Dignitaries in gorgeous uniforms stood on the platform. Spectators of intermediate rank, perhaps the Members of Congress, looked down from the second and third story windows of the building.

            Daniel glanced back at Adele. Her right hand touched her data unit, but it was still in its sheath; bringing it out would be an insult to the waiting officials and more generally to the new republic. Adele wasn't one to bow to authority–and certainly not to the authority of jumped-up farmers from the fringe worlds–but the RCN was on Pelosi to support the rebellion. Offending the locals would interfere with that goal, and Adele would rather die than fail in her duty.

            Daniel grinned; so would he, of course. In fact he guessed that was by and large true of the Princess Cecile's crew. In reality, though, his Sissies would rather die than have a bunch of wogs watch them fail, a truth that made their attitude rather less noble.

            The tractor pulled hard left at the base of the platform and stopped. From this close Daniel could see that under the black, red, and white bunting, the stand had been knocked together from rough timber. It swayed noticeably when the dignitaries on it moved.

            "Excellency Lord Leary, will you come with me, please?" said an officer of twenty or so. He wore scarlet trousers and a sky-blue tailcoat picked out with more medals than Daniel himself could claim. "And your officers, they may come also, if you will."

            He bowed and swept an arm toward the flight of steps at one end. They didn't look any sturdier than the rest of the structure. Daniel half smiled, half grimaced, and said, "All right, Blantyre and Cory, follow me. You knew when you joined the RCN that the job was dangerous."

            The midshipmen wore 1st Class uniforms, a tailored one in the case of Cory. Daniel was bringing them along simply to add to the display.

            He exchanged glances with Adele as he started up the steps. The trailer was too close to the platform to be seen by those on top of it, and the spacers of their escort formed a wall, shoulder to shoulder, against the eyes of the crowd. Adele sank gratefully onto the bed of the trailer, opening the data unit on her crossed legs.

            Though the platform was eight feet high, the heads of the seven people standing on it didn't quite rise to the course of stone separating the brick facades of the building's first and second stories. Six were men, making the squat, gray-haired woman in the center the head of state, Generalissima DeMarce. Bagarian uniforms emphasized padded shoulders and trousers bloused into riding boots, but DeMarce wore in addition a pelisse of lustrous golden fur.

            Until he reached the top of the platform, Daniel hadn't appreciated that DeMarce and all her ministers would be in uniform. There was no help for it, then. He halted, clicked his heels to attention, and threw the Generalissima as sharp a salute as he could manage. It wouldn't have earned him a place on a drill team, but it was better than most of his attempts.

            The Bagarians returned the salute in confusion. Daniel at least had four years of Drill and Ceremony at the Academy. It was staggeringly obvious that none of the ministers had had any military training until the revolution put them in power.

            Despite Daniel's horror, the crowd cheered wildly at the spectacle. Maybe they thought an exchange of military courtesies was supposed to involve everybody's right arm going in a different direction.

            "Commander Lord Leary!" said DeMarce, her voice booming through the loudspeakers concealed behind the bunting; the platform shook in rhythm with her words. "As the representative of the sacred Bagarian people, I welcome you and the unconquerable Republic of Cinnabar which you represent."

            She turned from Daniel to the square below and swept up her arms in command. Obediently the crowd cheered.

            DeMarce dropped her hands. Her amplified voice resumed over the trailing remnants of applause, "Commander, with you and the Gods supporting the cause of independence, we are invincible! And now, since the Bagarian people join all the rest of the galaxy in recognizing your unique merits, my colleague Douglas Lampert will make a further presentation in his capacity as Minister of the Navy!"

            Her arms shot up again; the crowd resumed its applause. It looked like a stage show, but in fact the enthusiasm seemed real–if choreographed.

            Lampert stepped forward, holding a red, black, and white sash with gold fringes along both edges. He was a plump fellow who, judging from the way his uniform bulged, tried to control his midriff with a girdle instead of exercise. Daniel, who'd been laced into his Whites, had only sympathy for him.

            "Lord Leary!" he said. The loudspeakers amplified his voice but didn't make it any less squeaky.

            The form of address was incorrect, at least by Cinnabar usage. Daniel wasn't the Leary of Leary. He wouldn't be in the future, either, unless Deirdre predeceased him leaving no offspring. Given that she was a banker and he had a reputation for being the most daring officer in the RCN, that was a very low-probability outcome. Hogg, standing on the trailer below, was probably muttering, "What d'ye expect from wogs?"

            Daniel grinned at himself. Because he was uncomfortable because he didn't know what was going on, the same uncharitable thought had drifted through his own mind.

            "I bear in my hands the insignia of the Admiral in Chief of the Independent Republic of Bagaria," Lampert chirped, holding forward the sash. "As Minister of the Navy and with the full agreement of the head of state and of my colleagues, I present this to you, Lord Daniel Leary. Wear it in honor and with it sweep the enemy from our worlds and the space around them!"

            By all the Gods! Whatever Daniel'd been thinking, that wasn't it.

            Daniel bent slightly to let Lampert drape the sash over him. The saucer hat gave a little trouble, but Daniel straightened it with a hand when the minister stepped back. Something was written on the sash in gold embroidery, but that wasn't anything to worry about now.

            He had a momentary concern that he'd forfeit his RCN rank if he accepted a foreign appointment, but that was silly: it was common for nations to grant naval honors to RCN officers. When Daniel thought about it, he remembered that his own investiture as a Royal Companion of Novy Sverdlovsk made him a Colonel of the Regiment of Guards.

            What was different about Bagaria was that they appeared to mean it. It wasn't an honorary rank: they wanted him to lead their navy. That was in keeping with the purposes of the Navy Board in sending Daniel Leary to the cluster, and it was also very much to Daniel's taste.

            "Your Excellency," Daniel said. "Honored representatives of the Bagarian Republic."

            He made slight bows to Lampert and to the Generalissima, then nodded toward the remaining ministers.

            "I accept your offer with humble gratitude," he said, pleased to see the loudspeakers were picking up his words. "With the united will of the Bagarian people behind us, we cannot fail to sweep the minions of the tyrant from your cluster!"

            He smiled. Only the son of a great politician would've been able to tell so many lies, with such sincerity, in so few words.

            Generalissima DeMarce stepped forward again. "In acknowledgment of this great occasion," she said, "I have decided after consultation with my ministers–"

            She glanced over her shoulder.

            "–to rename the ship just captured from the enemy. Henceforth the Victoria Luise shall be known as the Admiral Leary. May you and she go forward in triumph together against our enemies!"

            DeMarce raised her arms again. Daniel's mind spun for a moment, then over the applause he thundered, "Your Excellency!"

            The Generalissima eyed him narrowly but didn't speak. The cheers abated.

            "Your Excellency, humbled though I am by this honor…," Daniel said. There probably wasn't a regulation against it, but he couldn't imagine anything that would wreck his RCN career more thoroughly than what even his friends would consider an act of incredible arrogance.

            "I would ask instead that we use this occasion to proclaim the indissoluble bonds between our two great republics. Grant me that the Victoria Luise may revert to her former name in Cinnabar service, becoming henceforth the Independent Bagarian Ship Ladouceur!"

            Taking a chance, Daniel raised his hands. The crowd responded with the wild cheering that he'd hoped for–

            And even more important, the Generalissima and her ministers did also.

            Daniel beamed happily. His first act as commander of the rebel navy had gone well. If he could just be half so lucky with the considerable remainder of the things he had to do.

 

 

About Eric Flint

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