IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 5:
CHAPTER 2: Bergen and Associates Shipyard, Cinnabar
“Captain Leary?” said the lieutenant who’d accompanied Britten. She was slender but obviously wiry: she’d fought her way through the crush to reach Daniel.
She extended a sealed document, this time a functional plastic bifold rather than a parchment to be hung in a place of honor. “I’ve brought your orders from Navy House.”
“Thank you, McCoy,” Daniel said, reading the nametag on her left breast. He reached out, trying to hold his left sleeve in place for Hogg but tilting his torso sideways to take the document. “Lieutenant Vesey?”
He frowned. He should’ve called for Robinson, his First Lieutenant; he’d named Vesey instead by reflex, because of the number of cruises they’d made together. Vesey had risen from midshipman to lieutenant under him, and she was an important part of the team which had catapulted Daniel to captain.
“Call the crew to stations,” Daniel continued, raising his voice over the babble. “I’ll read my orders to the company, as soon as I reach the bridge.”
Vesey was in Whites like the rest of the officers, but a quartermaster holding a commo helmet stood just behind her. She put the helmet on in place of her saucer hat, technically a violation of regs. The helmet’s active sound cancelling was much more practical than a hand communicator in a crowd chattering like surf on the rocks.
“All crew to liftoff stations!” ordered the Milton’s external loudspeakers. Distortion robbed Vesey’s voice of character, but in truth that voice was in keeping with the plain woman it belonged to. She was a good officer with a real flair for astrogation, though. “All crew to liftoff stations!”
Daniel frowned to see the confusion on the upper hull. The cruiser had eight airlocks, but only the four on her dorsal spine were usable while she floated in harbor as now.
Even so the business would’ve gone smoothly if the riggers who handled the antennas and sails were the only ones trying to use those locks. The Power Room crew had been mustered on the hull also, since there wasn’t room for them to watch from the shipyard proper. Some of the technicians were very nearly as clumsy out on the hull as Adele, which–Daniel grinned–was saying something.
The thought made him turn to find her. No one was more important to his promotion than Adele. Not Signals Officer Mundy or Lady Mundy, though she was those things too: my friend Adele.
To Daniel’s surprise, Adele was already going up the ramp into the main hold. She was a little apart from the Milton’s other officers but walking in close company with Britten’s male aide, Lieutenant-Commander Huxford.
“Officer Mundy?” Daniel called, raising his voice to be heard twenty yards away. He’d nearly said, “Adele.”
Adele turned, her expression calm and mildly inquisitive. She rarely smiled and almost never frowned. Daniel didn’t make the mistake of thinking that she was emotionless because she didn’t show emotion.
He mimed shoving a path through the crowd of well-wishers. “Wait a moment, Officer Mundy,” Daniel said, stepping into the ruck. Because he kept his eyes focused on Adele, he could bump through the people around him without being obviously offensive. “I’ll come up to the bridge with you.”
“If you wouldn’t mind, Captain Leary…,” said Huxford. He was a very polished young man, a scion of the nobility who’d learned refinement and politesse in the years that Speaker Leary’s boy had spent hunting and fishing on a rural estate. “Officer Mundy and I have some troublesome business to transact in the Battle Direction Center. I’m sure it won’t take long, though.”
“Ah,” said Daniel. He forced a smile, though he didn’t work very hard at making it believable. Apparently Huxford wasn’t part of the Navy House bureaucracy after all.
Daniel was aware of Adele’s duties for Mistress Sand, the Republic’s spymaster, but the less he knew about the details, the happier he was. The less unhappy he was, rather. “Yes, of course. A very good day to you, Huxford. Officer Mundy, please join me when you can.”
Now that he had time to take in the situation, Daniel saw that two husky men accompanied Huxford. They wore RCN utilities, but they probably knew as little about naval service as the lieutenant commander himself.
Daniel smiled tightly. Adele’s servant Tovera was part of the entourage also. If push came to shove, Huxford’s heavies wouldn’t last a heartbeat. Tovera’s bite probably wasn’t poisonous, but the colorless little sociopath liked to kill and had gotten a great deal of practice.
The Milton’s officers had paused when they heard their captain hail Adele. Daniel joined them, striding up the boarding ramp.
“Congratulations, sir,” said Blantyre, newly promoted and the cruiser’s Third Lieutenant. “We’re off to burn the Alliance a new one with their own ship, eh?”
Robinson and Vesey murmured with similar politeness. The former, a slender lieutenant commander of Daniel’s own twenty-six years, showed the degree of reserve to be expected of a stranger who knows that political pressure foisted him on a highly regarded officer.
Daniel laughed. “I hope and expect that we’ll make a very sedate shakedown cruise,” he said. “I want to learn the old girl’s crotchets before we try conclusions with the Alliance. I’m sure that’s what Navy House had in mind when they assigned us to take an embassy to a friendly place like the Angouleme Palace on Karst.”
There were four companionways in the Milton’s boarding hold. Armored tubes protected circular staircases wide enough to allow two spacers in hard suits to use them side by side, though whoever was on the outside covered twice the distance as the inner.
Robinson and the lieutenants paused so that Daniel could enter the forward Up shaft ahead of them, then got in behind him. Their soft boots set up a series of whispering echoes on the steel treads, joining those of the spacers already above them in the companionway.
Daniel kept his eyes turned up like a trained spacer rather than looking at his feet. This was more proper than that he should enter his new command at the side of a junior warrant officer, of course.
But he’d have liked his friend Adele to be with him. And if he’d ever cared much for propriety, he’d have been a less effective servant of the Republic of Cinnabar.