IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 3:
Liberty suits were RCN utilities decorated with embroidered patches and, along the seams, colored ribbons bearing the names of the various ports the spacer had called on. A senior warrant officer like Woetjans went on liberty in gorgeous motley, an object of admiration to all who saw her.
The Milton’s crew were in unadorned utilities for this ceremony, but the yard personnel could wear what they pleased. If that was liberty suits, then they’d earned the right. The peg legs, pinned-up sleeves, and eye patches were proof of that.
And they were bloody good workmen!
Mistress Kolb poised her baton. It was a sturdy thing, suitable for battering an opponent into the floor; Daniel wondered fleetingly just how she’d rehearsed her choristers. She cut it down, toward the girls. They caroled, “Fate, Thou Who worlds rules, never bending…”
Admiral Anston swayed. Daniel put his hand on the older man’s waist, taking more of his weight. Anston muttered a curse, but he got his strength back and straightened.
“I never let the bloody politicians stop me before,” he said. “That isn’t going to change now.”
“Fixed Your course, to triumph tending…,” sang the girls. The brunette on the left end had a remarkable pair of lungs in a remarkable chest; Daniel remembered her elder sister well.
Daniel smiled. He supposed he and Anston looked odd, gripping one another in the middle of a crowd waiting for something to happen, but the two of them were the only folk here who could do as they pleased without people looking askance. Daniel wore only his Cinnabar decorations, not the gaudy trinkets he’d been given by foreign governments. Even so, Anston alone of the officers present had a more impressive chestful of medals.
“Cinnabar, the crown of all worlds,” sang the girls. “Cinnabar, Your chosen world.”
Anston turned slightly to look at the spacers lining the Milton’s hull and yards. “You’ve got a full crew, or the next thing to it,” he said approvingly. “Volunteers, I shouldn’t wonder.”
The joined choruses were praying that Fate and the Cosmos would continue to bless the youth of Cinnabar with purity and their elders with wisdom and peace. It was all silly if you thought about it. Daniel had been a youth recently and a senator’s son all his life; he had no high expectations of purity, of wisdom, or certainly–he was also an RCN officer, after all–of peace.
But the Festival Hymn struck him much the way each fresh sight of the Matrix did: it rang a chord echoing deep in his heart. Call it childish superstition or patriotism or just the urgent wonder of the not-yet-known–it was there, and Daniel was glad for its presence.
“Yes sir, volunteers,” Daniel said, grinning with rightful pride. Spacers wanted to serve with Captain Leary. “The change in regulations permitting spacers to follow the officer of their choice had a good effect on the Milton’s recruitment.”
Anston shuddered in what after a bad moment Daniel realized was laughter, not a coughing fit. “Vocaine didn’t have much choice,” Anston said, swallowing the last of a chuckle. “Every successful officer in the RCN was on him to stop locking their crews up between commissions and parceling them out to whichever ship was short; which all ships are, we don’t have enough spacers. He may dislike you, Leary, but not even the Chief of the Navy Board can ignore what school chums like James of Kithran are telling him.”
“It worked out well for me,” Daniel said mildly. He wouldn’t brag to Anston, and anyway he didn’t have to.
He cleared his throat and added, “I was a little surprised, because, well, we both know that the Milton’s an oddball ship. We know it and every spacer on Cinnabar knows it. And I couldn’t promise them loot, not on this commission. But they still came in to volunteer.”
The male chorus boomed out the names of the many worlds frightened by Cinnabar’s armed might. The women answered with a similar catalog of worlds which had embraced Cinnabar’s mercy and protection and thus were being guided to peace and prosperity.
Daniel had seen a good deal of how Residents from the central bureaucracy in Xenos governed planets which had fallen under Cinnabar’s control; the reality was less idyllic than the Hymn would have it. Nonetheless, Cinnabar’s rule was greatly preferable to the system of organized rapine by which Guarantor Porra’s minions administered members of the Alliance of Free Stars. Politics and life are the art of the possible.
“Oddball?” repeated Anston. “A bloody stupid design, I’d call it. Four eight-inch guns instead of eight six-inch on the same hull means you don’t have either the coverage or the rate of fire to deal with incoming missiles. Sure, an eight-inch packs a wallop when it hits, but three or four six-inch bolts do more good anywhere but at long range. And you shouldn’t be burning out your tubes at long range anyway.”
“Yes sir, as far as defensive use goes,” said Daniel, being very careful not to let his tongue get away with him. The Milton’s my ship, or next thing to it! He coughed. “But eight-inch bolts are very effective against other ships. As I know well, having been on the receiving end of them.”
The admiral laughed again. “Sorry, Leary,” he said, “sorry. I guess you’d make a garbage scow look like a useful warship if you took her up against the Alliance. And we have our share of peacetime designs, too. But as for spacers joining you–”
He glanced up at the cruiser’s yards, then met Daniel’s eyes again.
“I know you didn’t promise them loot, but they’re certain that Captain Leary knows what he’s doing and knows how to take care of his crews. And besides, boy, they know how lucky you are and probably figure you’ll find them loot besides. Which is what I think too, by the Gods!”
“Sir…,” said Daniel. He paused to organize his thoughts. “Sir, I appreciate your confidence, but we’ll be shepherding a senator to the Veil as an ambassador. As I’m sure you know. We won’t see action, let alone gather up prizes, if we do our job correctly. Which I certainly intend to do.”
There was a bustle beyond the raised windows of the shipyard office. Looking into the shadowed darkness from this low angle, Daniel could only guess that the missing senators might at last have arrived.
The workmen on the gantry had a better view of the interior, however. In the center of the trestle stood the man who’d been Lieutenant Mon when he served under Daniel on the Princess Cecile. Mon was a skilled and methodical officer, but a run of bad luck had gained him the reputation of being a jinx. That doomed his chance of success as a ship’s captain, whether in the RCN or the merchant service, but he’d proven an ideal manager for Bergen and Associates while Daniel pursued his naval career.
Mon’s reserve commission gave him the right to the Dress Whites he wore today, though they bulged at every seam; nobody had let out his set with the skill Miranda had lavished on Daniel’s. He’d chosen to wear his uniform for the same reason his workmen were in liberty suits: this was the RCN’s day.