IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 2:
Daniel Leary had spent much of his youth in this shipyard, listening to Stacy Bergen and other old spacers tell stories. Uncle Stacy was a legendary explorer who’d opened more routes through the Matrix than any other officer in the RCN. He’d showed his young nephew how to conn a ship from the masthead, feeling a path through the infinite bubble universes instead of simply calculating one. More important, Daniel had learned to love the romance of star travel because Uncle Stacy and his friends did.
Though now Daniel owned Stacy’s half of the shipyard, he was still a boy full of wonder and delight every time he walked through its gates. Like the swirling majesty of the Matrix, Bergen and Associates was a magical thing which hinted at infinite secrets.
Daniel instinctively glanced at the sky, though he knew better than most that if there really was a heaven, it wouldn’t be found by going upward. “Thank you, Uncle Stacy,” he whispered, his lips barely moving. “This wouldn’t be happening except for you.”
He stood in the middle of the dais. To his right were the Milton’s three lieutenants, while to the left stood six retired officers who’d served under Stacy Bergen at some point in their distinguished careers. They were honoring Commander Bergen by attending the promotion of the nephew who’d been like a son to him.
When young Daniel hadn’t been spending time in the shipyard, he’d been on the family’s Bantry estate learning to hunt, fish, and generally appreciate the natural world. His teacher had been a retainer named Hogg who looked–then as now, standing behind Miranda and her mother–like a simple-minded rustic who’d dressed in a random collection of old clothes.
Hogg was rustic, all right, but a variety of concealed pockets were sewn into his baggy garments. On Bantry the pockets were for poached game; now they hid a variety of weapons, in case somebody on a distant world thought he’d make trouble for the young master. The man who’d regularly snapped the necks of cute furry animals for his dinner had even less compunction about dealing with wogs who got in the way of a Leary.
And though Hogg was likely to be direct, there was nothing simple about his mind. Sharpers who thought they’d clean the rube out in a poker game learned that very quickly.
Mistress Heather Kolb, the wife of Bantry’s overseer, marshalled her paired choruses so that they faced the dais rather than the crowd. She’d told Daniel that the estate’s youths and maidens–if they were maidens, then things had changed since Daniel was a youth at Bantry–had begged to appear at the young master’s promotion ceremony.
Daniel had been disinherited when he broke with his father. He wasn’t any kind of master now, but he was still a Leary, and he knew the tenants of Bantry would’ve been crushed had he snubbed them. He’d granted their wish, but from the terrified faces they raised to him, they’d have been much happier cleaning offal from the estate’s fish processing plant.
Admiral Anston, who’d been Chief of the Navy Board until his heart attack, shuffled toward Daniel from the group of retired officers at the end of the dais. Daniel felt a twinge to see with what difficulty the old man moved.
Everyone in the RCN respected Anston, perhaps the finest chief who’d ever blessed the service. Daniel had met him a few times one-on-one. He didn’t claim to know the admiral well, but he’d known him well enough to feel personal as well as professional regret at Anston’s ill health.
“Any notion of what’s holding up the show, Leary?” Anston said. “I told them I didn’t want a bloody chair here on the stage, but I’m half regretting that now.”
“Sir, I’ll get you a chair at once!” said Daniel in horror.
“You bloody won’t,” said Anston forcefully. “But I’ll put a hand on your shoulder if I may. Old shipmates together, you know.”
“Sir, I’m honored,” Daniel said. He didn’t add flourishes to the words; the truth didn’t need embellishment.
The older man let himself sag against Daniel’s arm; he was as light as a bird. Illness had melted away his flesh and turned his ruddy complexion sallow. Daniel thought of repeating his offer of a chair, then swallowed the unintended insult and said, “I believe they’re waiting for two more senators to arrive, sir. Ah, I believe this was some of my sister’s doing.”
Anston laughed with unexpected good humor. “Bloody politicians, eh, lad?” he said. “But maybe it’ll do us some good in the Navy Appropriation. I know the Learys too well to ignore their judgment when it comes to politics.”
He coughed. “No offense meant.”
“None taken, sir,” said Daniel. “But that isn’t me, you know.”
“Pull the other one, Leary!” Anston said, glaring at Daniel like a sickly hawk. “Yes, you’re a fighting spacer, but you’re a bloody politician too or you wouldn’t be here. And don’t you think I’m the one to know a man can be both?”
Daniel found himself grinning. “Well,” he said. “Thank you, sir.”
Mistress Kolb slashed her baton down and up three times with as much determination as if she were beating a rat to death in her pantry. The last stroke was toward the male chorus, which dutifully responded, “Mighty Cosmos, all enclosing, filled with worlds and peoples bold….”
Anston bent close to Daniel’s ear. “Who’re the liberty suits on the gantry? They’re not your crew, are they?”
“As You wax and wane eternal, one stands out of all You hold–”
“No sir,” said Daniel. “They’re the shipyard staff. My Uncle Stacy believed in hiring old spacers where he could, saying that they knew their way around a ship better than any landsman and knew the cost of bad workmanship to the folks who’d have to repair it in the Matrix. We’ve just followed his lead.”
“Cinnabar, the crown of all worlds,” sang the youths. “Cinnabar, Your chosen world.”
“And it’s not charity!” Daniel said, with perhaps a touch more vehemence than was helpful to being believed. “An experienced spacer is often more use in a shipyard than a landsman who has all his limbs still.”
“I never heard complaints about the work we contracted out to the Bergen yard, boy,” said Anston softly.