IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 11:
Anston, Admiral James, and Daniel’s sister Deirdre had asked if Daniel could find room on the Milton’s books to list young persons–in Kithran’s case, his ten-year-old niece–as midshipmen before the age of sixteen, when they could enter the Academy. If those recipients passed the midshipman’s exam after graduation, their period of early enrollment would count as both time in grade and time in service. For the right officer, that could be a considerable benefit.
And favors done for people with interest could have considerable benefit to the young captain granting the favors. Occasionally an officer who was unable to raise interest would complain at the support luckier fellows were getting, but it was common sense to see that people like Anston didn’t want to be associated with incompetents and failures. As Daniel saw it, everyone gained and very likely the RCN gained most of all.
“Which leaves my lieutenants,” Daniel said, coming to the nub at last. “Blantyre, my Third, I’ve watched–I’ve trained–over several commissions. She’s had more seasoning that many officers with far more seniority. Besides that, I know her.”
Stickel nodded, but he pursed his lips. It was obvious that he’d heard discussions about young Leary’s officers as well as about the Milton’s crew. Daniel realized that he was speaking not just to Stickel but through him to the corps of senior captains who’d made the RCN a professional fighting force and the terror of Cinnabar’s enemies.
He sipped brandy to wet his lips and went on, “Vesey, my Second, is more of the same–for good or ill, but I think good. She has a genius for astrogation. Now–there’s nothing wrong with her courage, but she has a tendency to set up a battle as though she were playing both sides of the board.”
He grinned, trying to take the edge off an analysis which others would read as criticism. Vesey wasn’t a bad tactician, she simply wasn’t as good at war as she was at astrogation. Almost no one was as good an astrogator as she was.
“I won’t quarrel with another captain’s choice in officers, not unless they’ve served with me…,” said Stickel. That was probably a lie even with the limitation, but it was a polite lie. “But it seems to me that a fellow with your record could have found much more senior people. And ones who wouldn’t challenge him, if you saw that as a problem.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” said Daniel. He smiled, but he knew that his voice had roughened at the thought. He could follow orders when it was his duty to do so, but by the Gods! his subordinates would follow the orders he gave or they’d wish they had.
He cleared his throat and continued, “Yes, I’m sure I could find senior lieutenants who’d be glad to join the company of a heavy cruiser instead of commanding a replenishment ship or a base that you have to go to the Sailing Directions to identify. But sir–”
His smile was rueful and completely honest.
“–I’m not very senior myself. I was young for a commander and I’m a bloody young for a captain. Picking officers whom I know and trust and who already know and trust me isn’t just a whim or an affectation.”
Stickel chuckled again. “I said I thought you were a planner,” he said. “I didn’t need the confirmation, but you just gave it to me.”
He continued to grin over the rim of his snifter. “And your first, then? Another protégé?”
“Yes,” said Daniel, letting the doubt show in his tone, “But not mine. Lieutenant Commander Robinson was strongly recommended by Senator Forbes. I–”
“Bloody hell, Leary!” said Stickel. “He’s not one of that old bag’s pretty boys, is he?”
“No sir, he’s not,” Daniel said, grinning at the older man’s vehemence. He’d had the same concern, though he’d kept his lips together until a look at the Navy List had reassured him. “She’s bringing a, ah, supernumerary aide along on the voyage also, but Robinson is a real officer as well as the grandson of her first cousin. They’d been quite close as girls, and the cousin’s side of the family is now in straitened circumstances.”
Stickel nodded grimly. “I see,” he said. “I can’t say I like the thought of politicians forcing their pets on serving officers, Leary.”
“Sir,” Daniel said, “I’ve made inquiries.”
And Adele had made inquiries, to the same result. Robinson sometimes drank more than he should–but less often than Daniel himself did. He made an effort to live within his pay, but he came from a good family and the effort wasn’t always successful. Again, Daniel felt more sympathy than censure.
Robinson’s record as an officer was exemplary, however. He would’ve been employed whether or not Daniel accepted him, but without interest he would’ve been less likely to make him stand out–which he needed to do for further promotion now that Senator Forbes was out of favor.
The request was flattering, when viewed in that light. Though it still rankled, for just the reason Stickel had given.
“I don’t know how Senator Forbes viewed her advocacy, sir,” Daniel said. “I will tell you–and any other RCN officer whom I respect–that if I hadn’t been completely convinced of Mister Robinson’s fitness for the post, I would have resigned rather than accept him.”
He grinned in a fashion that another fighter like Stickel would understand. “I’d have threatened to resign, that is,” he said, “though of course I wouldn’t have been bluffing. I hope I don’t overvalue myself, but I would expect my superiors at Navy House to support an RCN officer with a good record over a politician who’s out of power for the foreseeable future.”
Stickel snorted. “There’d have been more resignations than yours if Navy House didn’t see it that way,” he agreed.
Daniel made a hobby of natural history, and he found the language of animal behavior worked quite well even when the animals were human. He said, “It isn’t simply dominance games, sir.”
Bloody hell, I’ve polished off my brandy, and the bottles of Handler White we downed with dinner run 14% alcohol! But drunk or sober, he’d tell Stickel the whole truth.
“I’ve got five hundred spacers who volunteered,” he said aloud. “Who chose to put themselves in my hands. I won’t have it on my conscience that I gave them into the power of a man I don’t trust. But seeing that Mister Robinson is well fitted to be the Milton’s First Lieutenant–”
Daniel shrugged, really stretching his muscles instead of making a rhetorical gesture. Feeling himself relaxing, he grinned.
“Quite frankly, sir,” he said, “I’d rather avoid a fight if I can than win one. And this one I could honorably avoid.”
“The Senate lost a bloody good politician when you joined the RCN, Leary,” Stickel said. “I thought the same about Anston, too. But the real loser both times was Porra and his bloody Alliance of Free Stars. Now–”
He reached for the brandy bottle.
“–I don’t mind being poured into bed either.”
As before, the silent waiter forestalled him.