IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 27:
CHAPTER 8: Hereward Harbor, Paton
Daniel had decided that they would walk rather than take a taxi or a bumboat to the Spezza, because he’d thought it would give him and the midshipmen a better feel for the harbor. That was doubtless true, but the morning sun seemed very bright, and every time his left heel struck the esplanade, a hot ice pick jabbed up his right nostril. Porphyrion wasn’t nearly as enticing a beverage on the morning after as it’d seemed yesterday afternoon.
“Good day, sir!” he called to the watchman’s shack. The gate was swung back against the chain-link fence on both sides, but he didn’t think it was politic to simply walk in.
The figure within sat far enough back from the window that Daniel couldn’t determine even gender without pulling up the imaging goggles he wore around his neck. Because he and the two midshipmen were in their 2nd Class uniforms, they couldn’t properly wear commo helmets… and they couldn’t properly leave the ship in their utilities.
Under other circumstances Daniel might’ve been more concerned with what was practical than what was proper, but he was introducing himself to the commander of an allied military unit. And of course he had to consider Senator Forbes’ presence. She hadn’t been hostile to him thus far during the voyage, but she was angry enough at life and her present circumstances that he didn’t want to give her an opportunity to force his superiors to crucify him.
A youngish man stuck his head from the shack to look at them. His khaki shirt had a breast patch and might’ve been a uniform. He didn’t speak.
“We’re from the Milton,” Daniel said, gesturing back in a general way toward the cruiser’s berth. “I’m Captain Leary, and these are Midshipmen Cory and Else. We were told that Captain Kelly of the Spezza could use our help. And Colonel Stockheim, the commander of the regiment the Spezza’s supposed to be transporting.”
“Oh,” said the watchman, nodding wisely. “They’re in Berth CT7. You can’t miss ’em, that’s the big one.”
“Thank you, sir,” Daniel called as he and his officers strolled into the Cone Transport reservation.
“Why did they fence it all all like this?” Else asked quietly, as though she were afraid that the watchman would come running out after them if he didn’t like the question.
“Cone Transport has all twelve berths on the east end of the harbor,” Daniel said, “so it’s reasonable that they’d have some sort of security here.”
He cleared his throat and added, “Which, if I’d been thinking more clearly, I would’ve anticipated. I hadn’t appreciated the degree to which Cone Transport is involved in this operation. I’m glad my lack of preparation didn’t lead to embarrassment.”
In a normal voice, keeping his face deadpan, he added, “While I have the highest respect for my Millies, I wouldn’t have wanted to have to shoot our way in against a regiment of the Brotherhood of Amorgos.”
Cory’s face worked. He managed to hold the laughter in till he saw Else’s stricken expression; then it burst out in a loud guffaw, which he smothered with both hands. “Sorry, sir,” he muttered through his laced fingers.
“It’s all right to laugh at your captain’s jokes, Cory,” Daniel said. “In fact, it’s generally regarded as a career-enhancing activity.”
“Sir, I’m sorry,” said Else, looking as though she’d just been told to choose between impalement and boiling in oil. “I mean, sir…. Sir, I’ve heard the stories about you and the Princess Cecile. I didn’t know you were joking.”
“The stories are exaggerated, Else,” Daniel said, making the point he’d deliberately set up with the absurd suggestion. “I don’t expect to issue small arms to the crew at all on this voyage. Remember that we’re carrying an embassy to a friendly power.”
The Spezza was twice the size of the next-largest ship in the Cone reservation, so even a six-year-old landsman would’ve been able to identify her with as little difficulty as Daniel had. The floating bridge to her boarding ramp had been extruded from beige foam with red edges, the Cone Transport colors. There was a guard at the pier end of the ramp, which was normal; but it was a squad of fully armed soldiers in battledress, and they’d set up an automatic impeller on a tripod whose legs were weighted with sandbags.
“Isn’t that a little excessive?” said Cory, showing that his mind had turned in the same direction as Daniel’s. He was seeming more and more like a midshipman who was due promotion.
“Well…,” said Daniel. “Brotherhood troops have a very high reputation. Perhaps they gained it by not taking any unnecessary chances, hey?”
“Like your spacers, sir?” Cory said. “I mean, not taking any chances that aren’t necessary to win.”
“I wouldn’t have put it that way, Cory,” Daniel said. “But now that you have, I don’t disagree.”
The soldiers hadn’t been lounging before, but now most of them watched the RCN officers intently. Two had faced around to keep the bow and stern of the ship under observation, however. If raiders came around the transport while Daniel and the midshipmen were attempting a distraction, they’d be met with an immediate burst of slugs.
Only a few moments after Daniel and his party had turned onto the pier, a tall, flagpole-straight man came out of the Spezza’s boarding hatch. Like the guards, he wore battledress patterned in black and dark greens; only his short gray beard implied that he was a senior officer. He wasn’t running, but his legs scissored at a rate that brought him to the guardpost while Daniel was still ten yards away.
“I’m sorry, sirs,” the officer called. He didn’t sound sorry–about much of anything. “This berth is under the control of the Brotherhood of Amorgos at present. No civilians are permitted past this point.”
The guards held their automatic carbines slanted across their chests. They weren’t overtly threatening, but they looked very ready for action.
“Factor Amberly requested the assistance of the Veil authorities with what he said was an astrogation problem,” Daniel said. He halved the distance and then stopped, clasping his arms at his waist; Cory and Else halted a pace back, one to either side. “And Governor Das passed the matter on to the RCN, so we’re here. I’m Captain Leary of the Milton, and these are two of my officers. We were to ask for Captain Thomas Kelly, but if you’d prefer that we not involve ourselves…?
The officer shook his head in disgust. “Amberly should have told me and I’d have warned you,” he said. “That is….”
He straightened. “Captain Leary, please come aboard. I’m Colonel Thomas Stockheim of the Sixth Phratry, at your service.”