IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 23:
The harbormen were sauntering back toward the pier now that they’d unrolled the floating bridge till it reached the outrigger. Woetjans and a team of spacers were lashing the free end to the landing stage; Adele noted that the connection was very loose.
The bosun glanced up at the sound of feet on the boarding ramp. She must’ve noticed Adele’s… frown was too strong a word, but frown.
“The sea’s calm enough now, ma’am,” Woetjans said, “but if we lock the bridge in tight, she’ll go under water every time the Millie twitches. Don’t want you to get your footsies wet, right?”
Woetjans stepped aside and made a flourish with her right arm. “Clear for use, now,” she said. In a different tone she added, “Get out of the bloody way, Hebart!” and aimed a kick at the backside of the spacer who was crowding the path.
Adele walked quickly down the outrigger’s ladderway–as she’d learned to call stairs on a ship–and across the landing stage. It seemed solid, anchored by the Milton’s huge mass. Only when she stepped onto the foam bridge did she have the queasy sensation of floating. It was six feet wide, with a non-skid surface and a rope railing on flimsy poles to either side.
Adele slacked her quick strides when she was well inshore from the landing stage. Senator Forbes caught up with her. The distance kept the conversation they were about to have private.
“Do you always let commoners talk to you like that?” the older woman said. Her voice would never be pleasant, but this time she was pointedly not making an effort that it should be.
Adele smiled. “Woetjans is my superior officer, Senator,” she said. “I’m not political, of course, but a senator’s daughter learns to appreciate the value of hierarchies.”
Forbes flushed. She glared at Adele, who met the anger with an icy lack of emotion. They continued to walk side by side.
“I’m not mocking you, Senator,” Adele said on the third stride. “And I’m certainly not joking. I hold a number of roles in life, as most people do. To Chief Woetjans, I’m ‘ma’am’ as a mark of respect granted to me and not due to my position as the Milton’s signals officer.”
The senator’s expression faded to neutral. “Ah!” she muttered. She cleared her throat. “Yes, all right, I see. Sorry, Mundy.”
She probably thinks that Mistress Sand placed me in the RCN, Adele realized. Not even leaders of the Senate cared to delve too deeply into Mistress Sand’s business.
“You know Leary well,” said Forbes as they walked on. “He’s got quite a reputation, in the Navy and to anybody who follows the ordinary news.”
“Yes,” said Adele. “To both statements.”
She said as little as she politely could until she learned where the senator was going with her observations. Daniel and the RCN were so much of Adele’s life–were virtually the whole of her life–that she had to remind herself every time the subjects came up that other people didn’t have the same view of the cosmos.
She smiled wryly–at herself. They were wrong, of course, but she’d understood even before the Proscriptions that other people didn’t have to be right to have power over her.
“Does he fancy a political career, do you think?” Forbes said.
Adele clutched her personal data unit, still snug against her thigh. The question had been a shock. Just as well I took the question as an informational absurdity rather than a threat.
Smiling rather wider than before, Adele said, “He does not. I don’t know a person who would be less interested in a political career. Except for myself, perhaps.”
“He could parlay his naval exploits into serious votes, you know,” Forbes said earnestly. “Or perhaps you don’t know, Mundy, you’ve lived off-planet for a long time now. Take it from me, your Captain Leary could be the darling of the mob if he played his cards right.”
“He’s not an especially good card player, his man tells me,” Adele said coolly. “Too enthusiastic, apparently.”
She coughed, giving herself another moment to organize… not her thoughts, but how she could present those thoughts in a fashion that a politician would understand. “Captain Leary sees himself as an RCN officer before everything else.”
That might not be true: Daniel probably considered himself as a spacer first and an RCN officer only as a subset of his greater role. If that meant Adele was lying to a politician, it was merely a pleasant reversal of roles.
“He’s certainly capable of political maneuvering in the course of his RCN duties,” she continued. “I’ve watched him do so a number of times, most recently in the Bagarian Cluster. But–”
“Don’t forget who you’re talking to, Mundy,” Forbes said, though it was with bluff good-humor rather than a threatening snarl. “I saw Mistress Sand’s hand in that business.”
“With respect, Senator,” Adele said, feeling the edge in her tone. “Don’t underestimate Captain Leary. He is his father’s son. But you can take my word for it that they share no interests–”
Save for liking the favors of young women; but this wasn’t the time for Adele to be as precise as her instinct urged.
“–whatever. Or I wouldn’t be here.”
Forbes laughed. She sounded like glass breaking, but Adele was reasonably sure she was really amused.
They’d led the procession all the way from the cruiser. As they neared the concrete pier, Tovera slipped between without brushing either one of them. “What?” said Forbes, too shocked to be angry.
“She’ll wait for us, Senator,” Adele said. She wondered if her voice showed the humor she felt. “There’s some things she needs to take care of.”
She watched her servant mount the metal stairs. Though they slanted out toward the bottom only by the width of each tread, Tovera didn’t use her hands. On top of the pier she moved Governor Das and his aides back with a few words and an imperious jerk of her head.
Adele followed. At this stage of the tide, the pier was eight steps above the water level. The bottom two treads were slimy, but at least the stringers at shoulder height were dry to Adele’s hands; they left black corrosion on her palms, though. Behind, Forbes muttered, “This is abominable!”
Adele stepped aside on the concrete. She took out her handkerchief and wiped her hands.
“Ah, Senator…?” said Governor Das hopefully to Adele. His uniform had a high collar, and his throat above it was squeezed to almost the same scarlet hue.
“She’s coming, your Excellency,” Adele said, nodding toward the ladder. She refolded the handkerchief to bring clean surfaces outward.
Forbes reached the concrete. “Senator Forbes,” Das said, his voice a half octave above where it had been a moment before. “Allow me to welcome you to–”
“I do not know you, sir,” Forbes said, wiping her hands on Adele’s handkerchief. She dropped it disdainfully into the water. “Come along, Mundy. I think I hear an aircar.”
Adele fell into step. The business left an unpleasant taste in her mouth, but she hadn’t liked Forbes to begin with. Das had behaved like a social-climbing toady, and by so doing he’d let himself in for a snub in front of his subordinates. That was simple cause and effect, and the victim was the cause of his own discomfiture.
She smiled wryly. It still left a bad taste in her mouth.
Forbes looked at her. “If Captain Leary did decide on a political career,” she said quietly, “an alliance with an experienced politician could save him from the sort of mistakes that even a clever young man could make in ignorance.”
“Senator,” said Adele, “I’ll deliver your message discreetly. But information is my business.”
She smiled coldly. “I started to say, ‘my life.’ That would have been accurate also. I’ve told you that Captain Leary will not, in my best personal and professional analysis, ever consider a political career.”
Forbes made a moue, screwing her face into even more unattractive lines. “You have a reputation for being as blunt as you’re clever, Mundy,” she said. “It’s a wonder you’ve lived as long as you have.”
“I’m also a good shot,” Adele said. If Forbes had learned the rest, she knew that already; but stating it–bluntly–made a useful point. “That has helped on occasion.”
She glanced over her shoulder. Daniel and five other officers had followed the Senator’s party to the pier at a polite distance. The junior officers were now returning to the Milton–their presence had been merely for honor’s sake–while Daniel and Hogg were accompanying the local officials back to the car.