IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 8:
CHAPTER 3: Bergen and Associates Shipyard, Cinnabar
“I’ve gathered you here, fellow spacers,” Daniel said to the officers gathered with him on top of the Milton’s dorsal 8-inch gun house, “because there’s more room and no consoles to get in the way as there would be on the bridge or in the BDC. Besides, we’re going to see enough of Millie’s interior in a voyage to the Veil. That’s twenty-eight days by the Sailing Directions, though I’m hoping we can do rather better if the lady’s as handy as I hope she’ll be with a full rig.”
Also–which he wouldn’t say to his officers, of course–he wanted to see how they’d react to being briefed out on the hull. Robinson and three of the five midshipmen hadn’t served with him before: if their new captain’s eccentricity disturbed them, Daniel needed to know about it.
“Sir?” said Robinson. “You say a full rig? Instead of what?”
“We…,” Daniel said, smiling. “Woetjans, that is, largely, and it was indeed a large order–sailed her to Cinnabar from the Bromley System with a jury rig after she was captured.”
“I had forty-two riggers,” the bosun said gravely. “That’s forty-three with Six there lending a hand on the hull as he did the whole run. It wasn’t half a job, with most of the rig being yards raised in place of proper antennas that we’d skinned off her in the fight.”
“You can do that?” said Nina Else, the only female midshipman since Blantyre had been promoted to lieutenant. “I mean–how long did it take?”
She was a small and dark with only average scores at the Academy. Daniel had taken her as a favor to her cousin, Commander Fanshawe; a classmate and friend, and a valuable ally when he needed allies.
No one got ahead in the RCN without friends. Fanshawe was a friend; as well as being able, well-connected, and very wealthy.
“How long was did the voyage take, Lieutenant Vesey?” Daniel said. “About nineteen days, didn’t it?”
“Seventeen days, six hours, and thirty-four minutes to Cinnabar orbit,” said Vesey.
Daniel could’ve answered the question himself. Well, he could have said, “Something over seventeen days.” He’d instead given his Second Lieutenant a chance to shine in front of the newcomers. Vesey was quiet and not physically impressive. It was important that everyone, particularly Mister Robinson, know that Vesey was the Captain’s trusted shipmate.
Besides, it was more effective to be corrected downward from a “guestimate” that would itself have been an amazingly good run on a jury rig. So much of life was salesmanship, at least if you hoped to succeed.
“Sir, that’s, well…,” Else said. Her eyes had widened as she stared at Daniel. “That’s amazing.”
“Don’t expect to match it without Six conning your ship for you,” said Blantyre, picking right up on Daniel’s cue. “Isn’t that right, Cory?”
“First you have to have Captain Leary capture the ship to begin with,” Cory said. “And Mistress Mundy on signals, I think.”
“We were lucky and our Alliance opponent was unlucky,” Daniel said. He allowed himself a smile. “But yes, Officer Mundy was decoding Alliance signals more quickly than the intended recipients could, which was an enormous advantage to us.”
Native seabirds wheeled above the yard, making kek-kek-kek sounds. Their long tails terminated with diamond-shaped rudders, and their beaks had saw edges to grip fish. On Bantry, some of them–the Furry Stripers especially; there were several glinting red and gold against the sky–were good eating, but not here. Harbor birds scavenged garbage and fish boiled in polluted water when plasma thrusters were run up for testing.
Cory had been an Academy classmate of Blantyre, but he hadn’t been promoted yet. Initially Daniel hadn’t thought Cory would even pass his boards, but in the past year he’d been making great strides. Adele said he had a flair for communications. That wasn’t a commissioned officer’s job, but at least it showed that the boy wasn’t simply thick.
“As I say, we’ve a full rig, and we’ve been armed to RCN standards,” Daniel continued. “We have full missile magazines, and our guns–”
He tap-tapped the roof of the gun house with the toe of his right boot.
“–are Cinnabar 8-inch tubes instead of the 20-centimeter weapons the Millie mounted in Alliance service.”
Plasma cannon were intended for defense, flash-heating incoming missiles so that the layers of matter which sublimed away thrust the remainder of the projectile out of a predicted collision with the target vessel. They could be useful against other ships at short range and were colossally effective against nearby ground targets even through an atmosphere. Daniel Leary was in the habit of closing to knife range with his opponents.
Daniel grinned engagingly. “Though she wasn’t the Milton, of course, she was the Scheer. She lost her ventral turret when we took her, so rather than try to find two more Alliance weapons, the Bureau of Ordnance rearmed her completely. I suppose there’s an RCN base being defended by a pair of 20-centimeter guns somewhere. Somewhere in the sticks, I sincerely hope.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said Robinson, “but is this armament, well, practical? I would have thought two pair of slow-firing eights were less effective than the usual four pairs of sixes on a heavy cruiser.”
“This isn’t a design the RCN has copied, First,” Daniel said, “or that the Alliance has proceeded with beyond the initial class of three. Having said that, the Millie’s a real fighting ship.”
He grinned even more broadly than before, sweeping his gaze across the three commissioned officers and five midshipmen. Woetjans and Pasternak were the only warrant officers present, and they kept politely back from their betters.
“Having said that,” he continued, “we aren’t going to fight on this cruise unless something goes badly wrong. Half the worlds in the Veil Cluster are part of the Hegemony ruled by the Headman of Karst. Headman Terl ruled for thirty-two years–”
Daniel had looked up the background himself in the Sailing Directions. If he needed more detail, he’d ask Adele.
“–and Cinnabar couldn’t have had a better ally.”
“Once we’d slapped him down shortly after he took power, sir,” said Vesey, proving that she too had checked the Sailing Directions. The Milton’s destination hadn’t been a real secret, but that showed initiative on her part nonetheless.
“Quite right,” agreed Daniel, beaming. “Unfortunately, Terl has died and his grandson Hieronymos has become Headman. Senator Forbes is going to Karst on behalf of the Republic to encourage the boy to follow his predecessor’s good example. Right now wouldn’t be a good time to spare enough ships to provide a personal lesson like the one we gave Terl.”
“Senator Forbes?” said Midshipman Else. “Why, she’s the Minister of Finance, isn’t she? Surely they’re not sending a cabinet minister off to the Veil?”
Fanshawe’s cousin was by definition well connected, and it appeared in this case that the girl was more knowledgeable about affairs of state than most midshipmen were. Indeed, she was more knowledgeable than Captain Leary was, for all his father’s connections.
I wonder where Adele is? In her absence, he looked at Robinson. All of them were looking at Robinson.
“Ah…,” said Robinson, coughing into his hand. Speaking in a low voice directed at the armor on which he stood, he said, “I understand that Great Aunt Betsy came short in last week’s vote to choose a new Speaker of the Senate. She’d given up the Finance portfolio in order to run, of course. Under the circumstances it seemed better to all concerned that instead of retiring to a back bench, she might carry out an important off-world embassy.”
“Thank you, First,” Daniel said appreciatively. Robinson had handled an awkward situation well. “As I said, the Millie is simply transporting an embassy to a friendly planet. We’ll run in her rigging and power train, learn her quirks, and carry out weapons’ drills. Perhaps we’ll even have a started seam or the like to give the damage control parties practice… but those of you who’ve served with me in the past should have a chance to relax.”
He felt his face harden unintentionally. “You’ve earned it,” he said.
“Look, Six…,” Woetjans said, using the captain’s call sign as she generally did. “I hear what you’re saying, but if it was that simple they’d be sending a communications ship like the old Aggie, right?”
“Ah,” said Daniel, meeting the bosun’s troubled frown. She didn’t like to contradict him, but she wasn’t the sort to back away from what she saw as her duty. His first voyage as lieutenant had been on the communications ship Aglaia, where Woetjans was a bosun’s mate.