IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 6:
The Battle Direction Center was in the Milton’s stern, nearly two hundred yards from the bridge. It was unlikely that damage which destroyed both would leave anything of the rest of the cruiser. If the bow were blasted off, the team under the First Lieutenant in the BDC could fight what remained of the ship.
As Huxford closed the armored hatch behind them, Adele walked to the star of six control consoles in the center of the compartment. She sat on the couch of the nearest and rotated it outward, away from its holographic display. She didn’t mind standing, but she had to be seated to take out her data unit and bring it live. The floor would’ve been satisfactory, but since the couch was available, she used it.
Huxford turned, beaming, from the hatch. “I thought this was a rather clever way to get privacy for our little chat,” he said.
“Go on,” said Adele. A smile lifted the right corner of her lips. Perhaps this Gordon Huxford thought that meant she was in a good mood. He appeared to be stupid and unobservant enough to think that.
She was actually smiling because by using his credentials from Navy House to send the usual BDC personnel to the bridge, Huxford had guaranteed that every officer on the Milton would wonder what was going on. The consoles were powered up and, though they were in resting mode, there were at least a dozen of the cruiser’s personnel who could use them to eavesdrop on the BDC.
Even Daniel could do that, though he was probably too busy at the moment. Adele had a variety of regrets at this moment, but one of them was that she couldn’t be on the bridge when her friend read his first orders aboard his powerful new command.
Huxford smiled again, this time triumphantly. “Well, not to dawdle, mistress,” he said, “it’s about the attempt to award you the RCN Star. Our department has had to quietly quash it, of course, and we’d thank you not to allow the matter to come up again.”
“Pardon?” said Adele. She used a pair of electronic wands to control her personal data unit. They flickered now, calling up information on “the RCN Star,” words which meant nothing to her. She found the wands quicker and more discriminating than a virtual keyboard, let alone trying to use a light pen in conjunction with a holographic display.
“I think you understand me,” Huxford said, reinforcing Adele’s contempt for his intelligence. “I assure you, mistress, that everyone appreciates the risks you’ve taken and which all of us in Mistress Sand’s service take regularly. Nevertheless we give up hope of public honor when we accept the clandestine burdens of the Republic.”
Adele read: The RCN Star is the highest gallantry award which can be granted to warrant officers and enlisted personnel of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. A five-pointed star of red enamel, it differs from the Cinnabar Star, granted to commissioned officers in similar circumstances, by hanging from a blue-red-blue ribbon and being mounted on a silver roundel rather than a gold roundel.
Daniel wore the Cinnabar Star, so she knew what it looked like even without the image on her display. It was a deliberately obscure medal, no bigger than a man’s thumbnail.
She still had no idea what Huxford was talking about. “I’d never heard of the RCN Star until you mentioned it,” Adele said. “Have I been recommended for one?”
Huxford’s expression suggested that he was considering expressing disbelief at what she’d said. Adele smiled minusculely. It was just as well that her Whites didn’t have a pistol pocket; a pellet through the right eye, her usual target, would spoil features so handsome that they counted as a work of art.
Perhaps her expression warned him, because Huxford lost a little of his self-assurance. He said, “Of course you wouldn’t have been so foolish as to have involved yourself in this, mistress. Navy House no longer has any mention of the matter.”
He coughed delicately into the back of his hand. His manicure was as perfect as the rest of him. “You’ll please inform the uniformed friends who made this blunder that they shouldn’t repeat it. Though I’m sure they acted with the best motives.”
Before answering, Adele shut down her data unit and slipped it into its pocket. She stood, facing Huxford.
“Lieutenant Commander Huxford,” she said. Her voice had no more emotion than a sword-edge does. “Are you telling me that as my superior officer in the RCN? If so, I’ll request you to put it in writing. If–”
“Mistress, I–” Huxford began.
“Hear me out, sirrah!” Adele said. “If you’re a civilian speaking to Mundy of Chatsworth, I inform you that your tone has been remarked. You will apologize immediately, or I will treat it as an affair of honor.”
Adele’s eyes filmed with memories. She’d only killed one man in a duel, a fellow student at the Academic Collections when she was sixteen. She’d killed many, many more in the course of her duties as an RCN officer, but the bulging-eyed boy with the hole in his forehead returned with a particular vividness more nights than he didn’t.
“I meant no…,” Huxford said. His mouth must’ve gone dry, because he kept trying to lick his lips. “Mistress, that is milady–”
“Did you not hear me, you miserable toad?” Adele said. She didn’t shout, but even in her own ears the words cut like live steam.
“I apologize!” Huxford said, his posture rigid and his eyes on the blank consoles behind her. “Milady Mundy, I misspoke. My apologies if anything I said could be construed to be offensive.”
“Then get out of here,” Adele said, flicking the back of her right hand toward the hatch. “Captain Leary is a gentleman, and I don’t want him embarrassed by the offal my other duties appear to have dragged aboard his ship.”