IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 4:
Three serving officers came down the outside stairs from the yard offices. The last was Captain Britten, the deputy head of the RCN’s Personnel Bureau; Daniel assumed the male lieutenant commander and the female lieutenant preceding him were aides from the bureau. They made their way toward the dais as briskly as the crowd could part before the aides’ crisp orders.
Mon raised his arms and snapped, “Ready!” in a carrying tone. Then he dropped his arms and shouted, “Hurrah for Mister Leary!”
“Hurrah for Mister Leary!” the yard staff bellowed in answer. Obviously they’d rehearsed this.
The cheer silenced the crowd like a trumpet call. For a moment the chorus of girls sang piercingly of fruitful lands and fecund seas; then Mistress Kolb chopped her baton down. The assembled flower of Bantry bowed low to Daniel, their faces flushed and beaming. Turning, they bounded off the quay with a cheerful enthusiasm that made a striking contrast with their stiff, terrified approach.
The delegation from Navy House passed between the two choruses. The lieutenant commander handed a ribbon-tied scroll to Britten; then both aides halted, leaving the captain to take the single step onto the dais alone.
Britten transferred the scroll to his left hand, then came to attention facing Admiral Anston. He threw a much sharper salute than Daniel would ever have been able to do. It was unexpected and completely appropriate.
Anston no longer had an active commission, but he was largely responsible for the RCN’s present strength. Britten, who’d spent much of his career as a Navy House bureaucrat, was well aware of his former chief’s importance.
“A pleasure to see you again, Admiral,” Britten said. “Ah… would you care to say a few words? There’s a directional microphone upstairs–”
He gestured with his chin toward the yard office.
“–feeding the loudspeakers. I’ll just signal them to aim it at you.”
“Well, to tell the truth, Darwin,” Anston said. “I talked to my friend Vocaine last night and he’s authorized me to deputize for him. I hope you don’t feel that I’m stepping on your toes.”
“By the Gods, sir!” Britten said, holding out the scroll. “You certainly are not.”
Anston untied the document. He was standing unsupported, which made Daniel’s eyes narrow with concern. For the moment at least he seemed as solid as a bollard. Taking a broad-nibbed stylus from his sleeve–Dress Whites didn’t have pockets–he said, “Give me your back as a table, Darwin.”
Britten obediently turned and hunched slightly to provide a slanted writing surface. Anston crossed out the signature of Klemsch, Secretary to the Navy Board, and wrote his own above it.
“All right,” he muttered, putting the stylus away as Britten scuttled to the side.
Anston looked at the yards of the Milton, solid with spacers, then faced the crowd. Britten pointed toward the office and swung his finger toward Anston before dropping his hand to the side.
“Fellow spacers!” Anston said. The new speakers on both sides of the office boomed back his words, but his unaided voice was stronger and steadier than it’d been when he was talking to Daniel. “Fellow spacers, senators, and citizens of Cinnabar!”
Daniel grinned without intending to. It was typical of Anston that he’d give spacers pride of place over members of the Senate. He probably would’ve been more politic if he were still in office, but as a private citizen he could make his personal preferences known.
Anston waved the crackling document to the crowd. It was real parchment, impressed with two red wax seals from which fluttered a blue ribbon and a white ribbon.
“This is no longer my duty,” Anston said, “but I’m glad to say that I find it a great pleasure.”
Spreading the document with both hands and moving it slightly outward to where his eyes could focus comfortably, he read, “By the powers vested in my by the Senate, I hereby appoint Daniel Oliver Leary to the rank and authority of Captain in the Navy of the Republic of Cinnabar–”
Hogg cheered like a boar challenging the world. The Bantry contingent joined with enthusiasm, followed by almost all the other civilians at ground level. Madame Dorst started to cheer also, but Miranda laid her fingertips over her mother’s mouth to shush her.
Daniel held himself at attention, blushing with embarrassment for what his friends had done. Anston looked nonplussed for a moment; he’d probably never attended a promotion ceremony at which many of the spectators were civilians who didn’t know the drill.
When the noise died down, he resumed, “The rank of captain, as I say, his duties to commence with the reading of this order. This is signed by Darwin Britten, Captain, Deputy Chief of the Bureau of Personnel, and countersigned by Admiral Eldridge Vocaine, President of the Navy Board, by George Anston, his deputy for this purpose.”
Anston let the parchment roll itself up and handed the scroll to Daniel. “Captain,” he said, “allow me to be the first to give you the salute in your new rank.”
He shot his right hand to his brow, wincing as his arm rose above shoulder level. Nonetheless, he completed the salute.
Daniel returned it, his eyes blurring with tears. This was all quite improper: admirals don’t initiate an exchange of salutes with junior officers. It was the greatest honor anyone had ever paid him.
People were babbling and cheering. Captain Britten helped to support Anston, moving him back from the crush of folk mounting the dais to congratulate Daniel.
Hogg bumped Daniel from the side. “Hold your bloody arms still, young master!” he said. “Else I’m likely to put one of these pins through your wrist while I give you your new stripes. And won’t you look silly then, all blood over your white uniform?”
“What?” said Daniel. “Oh, sorry, Hogg.”
He held both forearms out from his body while his servant pinned a narrow gold stripe around the right sleeve above the two broad stripes of a commander. The Milton’s crew cheered from the yards like a choir of hoarse, profane angels.
Hogg moved around to Daniel’s left arm. “And if they look a bit worn…,” he said. “That’s because they’re the pair off Admiral James’ old captain’s uniform that he told me to fetch for you when I got back to Xenos. I guess it’s not much of a comedown for them to go on a Leary’s sleeve, is it, young master?”
“I’d like to think it wasn’t,” Daniel said, his eyes glittering again. He was no longer sure that Anston’s salute was the greatest honor he’d ever receive.