IN THE STORMY RED SKY — snippet 11

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.

About Eric Flint

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11 Responses to IN THE STORMY RED SKY — snippet 11

  1. mwhiddon says:

    I am not sure if Robinson is dead meat or a keeper.

  2. Douglas Lampert says:

    I'd say it's very likely they'll be a dispute between Leary and Forbes at some point in the voyage and that Robinson's fate depends on which way he jumps.

    My question is are the young relatives being listed as midshipmen actually going to be on board. Listing them if they're not on board seems like a very bad idea, but I'm not sure about children on a warship (and yes, the historical models for Cinibar and the RCN would have had no trouble putting kids in harms way and expecting them to act like small adults and obey orders). But having them on board almost requires that you assign some men to "babysit" them.

    Oh well, with a crew of 500 you can afford a few men to watch extra men.

    • Mark L says:

      Having "phantom" midshipmen was an accepted practice in the Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many officers began their careers by being entered in a ship's books at age 10, butt not actually going to sea until their teen years. The time on the books counted towards the six years service required before being promoted to lieutenant.

      Did this system have faults?

      Yup. But it also produced officers like Horatio Nelson. Since Drake is consciously modeling the RCN on the sailing era RN, having Leary following this practices is consistent with the result Drake desires.

  3. Alex says:

    Shouldnt Learys heavy cruiser rate marines? First i thought marines didnt exist in the RCN, but in "Lt, Leary Commanding", Commodore Pettin heavy cruiser had marines…. I know marines havent been mentioned that much (or almost not at all). Id like Leary to have some hardcore marines ;)

  4. dac says:

    I have to say, I just like this series.

    As to marines – the riggers appear to do double duty, at least on a corvette – on a cruiser, don't know. Sea v. star ships have different needs – to this point, their have been no boarders to repel, nor use of snipers from the rigging in Drake's books – in particular since ships cannot meet while in transit.

    If Drake had constructed his universe that you could, then going back to mechanical fire arms and cutlasses to repel boarders would be interesting

  5. Alex says:

    Yes i belived marines didnt exist in the rcn world, but than just yesterday i re-read "Lt, Leary Commanding" apperently they do exist, but maybe just in special circumstances. Jus thought it would be cool with a Marine Honour Guard for Leary ;)

  6. Alejo says:

    A very enjoyable chapter.

    • Jeff says:

      Correct me if I am wrong but the early navies had youngsters such a cabin boys learning seamanship? Sounds like an "early entrant" I bet they will be on board and probably won't need a babysitter after being smacked afew times by woetgans.

  7. Alex says:

    Well since Drake link RCN a lot with the Royal Navy, and they often had marines has honour guards for their captains… Also there might not be that much "boarding" action, but Leary often assault fortified positions,, the spacers aint that disciplined so it would proberly be a great advantage having marines with the assault.

    And yes Jeff, they often had cabin boys, but im not totally sure they later on went on to become midshipmen… Werent officer corp only for "gentlemen", tho i belive some did "raise from the ranks"…. I belive mark L explained why they wanted 10 year olds in the milton books.

    • Mark L says:

      The Royal Navy officer corps in the nineteenth century, especially after 1820 or so, was an exclusive club of the gentry. However, the eighteenth century Royal Navy was the place for a competent, but ill-connected young man ti put himself into the gentry.

      Sea service at that period was incredibly dangerous. A career naval officer who spent his time at sea had about a 2/3rds chance of prematurely ending his career through disease, the hazards of the sea (storms and shoals, particularly), or even combat. Since a watchkeeping officer's mistake — even a small mistake — could cause a ship to sink or get wrecked, this put a high premium on a captain's having competent officers. It wasn't enough for the captain and his first lieutenant to be competent, unless they wanted to be on the deck watch-and-watch, and if they did that long enough fatigue would make them stupid sometime. No, you had to sleep sometime, so you made real sure that the officers you had — and their subordinates — were the best possible people you could find.

      As a result, given a choice between promoting your beloved, but thick-witted son, or some bright, but lowly-born midshipman or masters' mate to a lieutenant's slot, smart captains — the ones who would pass on their genes based on the realities of the day — picked the bright young gentleman of no particular breeding. Besides, the eldest son belonged at home since he would inherit the estate you bought with your prize money, and purchasing a cavalry officer's commission was a much better way to place that beloved, but thick-witted younger son. At least the horse the boy was riding would have sense enough to keep the boy out of most scrapes. And in the right regiment, he would spend most of his time safely in barracks. Only impoverished members of the nobility followed careers at sea (mainly because they could not afford the price of an army officer's commission).

      At any rate, many of the senior officers of the American and French Revolutionary era came from surprisingly humble backgrounds. The admirals Hood were sons of an innkeeper, for example. Cook was the son of a cottar, and likely would have risen to admiral had he not died at the Sandwich Islands.

      This upward mobility slowed around 1800, when the navy became safer (due to Harrison's clock and improvements in medicine, among other things), and therefore could become fashionable. By 1820, wooden-headedness was no longer a death sentence for naval officers (and more importantly, their captains, who would otherwise have suffered from that wooden-headedness), so birth became more important than competence.

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