IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 28:
A smile lifted the left side of Stockheim’s mouth. “Better,” he said, “I should say that I’m very glad that you’re offering your services. Your male companion is welcome also, but–”
All traces of the smile vanished.
“–we cannot permit the other person aboard a Brotherhood vessel, even a hired vessel. Factor Amberly was remiss, and not for the first time. I’m very sorry if this seems a discourtesy, but I have no choice.”
“Ah!” said Daniel. He did know that about the Brotherhood, though the fact hadn’t risen into his conscious memory until he tripped over the reality. He’d been thinking of the Spezza and her Hydriote crew, rather than the troops who’d seemed to him to be only cargo. Clearly the troops had their own differing opinion on the matter.
“Sir?” said Else, touching the data unit cased on her equipment belt. “I can wait by the crane–”
A heavy crawler with shearlegs folded back over its hull was parked on the esplanade near the head of the pier. She nodded toward it.
“–and work on the astrogation exercises Mister Robinson set us.”
Daniel gave her a quick, false smile and nodded. He said, “Yes, that’s a good idea. If we’re going to be any length of time, I’ll contact you.”
Daniel very much doubted that Else would be working on her astrogation while she waited, but he couldn’t complain. It was his fault that she’d wasted the trip to the Spezza to begin with.
Else was addicted to the so-called novellas of her home planet, Schopenhauer. According to Adele–who of course had checked–she had brought a library of over a thousand novellas along on the voyage. They uniformly centered on strong, passionate women who were enmeshed in familial duties and the simultaneous loves of at least two angst-ridden men.
The plots were so uniform that Daniel would’ve guessed that rereading a single novella could easily have taken the place of starting a new one. Electrons didn’t take up much room, however, and the critical variations that Daniel saw in the Matrix were just a blur to untrained eyes.
“Let’s see what the problem is, then,” he said briskly. “Colonel Stockheim, if you’ll lead? And I suppose–yes, I see a ship’s officer is waiting for us in the entryway.”
Stockheim made a crisp turn in place and set off down the floating bridge. Daniel fell into step with him as a matter of both courtesy and self-interest.
The walkway was solid enough to support a utility vehicle, but the colonel’s firm stride made it quiver. If Daniel syncopated Stockheim’s steps, he would set up a rocking couple that would be uncomfortable for both of them. By good luck or intelligence, Cory too matched them step and step.
The Brotherhood of Amorgos were warrior monks, raised from birth to fulfill the obligations of their homeworld, Thebes, to the Republic of Cinnabar. There was no more gender bias in ordinary Theban society than there was on most civilized worlds–on Cinnabar, say, or Pleasaunce–where the right woman was the equal of a man.
Soldiers of the Brotherhood, however, lived apart from Theban society while they were being trained. They were then deployed off-world for their entire active careers. When they retired, they taught new recruits and lived in segregated enclaves.
The Brotherhood paid the contribution Thebes owed to Cinnabar for the privilege of being a member of the Protectorate. The Republic gained ten or a dozen regiments, phratries, of troops as good as any in the human universe.
And as for the Brothers themselves–they had a home and the respect of the only people whom they acknowledged as peers. Perhaps it was hard on them, perhaps their early training had warped them into something inhuman. But–
Daniel smiled, with sadness but also pride.
–spacers had a hard life too, and there wasn’t a man or woman on the Milton who wasn’t proud to be one of the best of the best. Most people, the huge majority of people, had never been members of an elite. They couldn’t understand that those who paid the cost of becoming a Millie or a Brother of Amorgos didn’t regret it; rather, they held everyone else in contempt.
“Kelly, this is Captain Leary from the warship,” Stockheim said curtly. “He’s going to fix your computer.”
“There is nothing wrong with my computer,” the Hydriote said in a cold, angry voice that implied they’d already had this discussion a number of times in the past. “The problem is the instruction chip that you provided, Colonel. You provided.”
He glared at Daniel. “Captain Leary, I am Captain Kelly,” he said. “Come! You will see, and you will tell this landsman that the fault is his.”
Hydriotes tended to slick, tight garments in pastel colors instead of the drab shapelessness that most spacers wore while on duty. Instead of wearing short jackets and billed caps like most merchant captains, Hydriote officers displayed their rank with crimson sashes, often with a long knife stuck through the folds. They looked barbaric, and it hadn’t been so very long ago that Hydra had been a center of piracy; but they were skilled spacers and famous well beyond their region for the honesty of their captains.
Instead of taking them up a companionway to the spine, Kelly strode along a corridor toward the bow. To Daniel’s surprise, the transport’s bridge was here on the entrance level. He’d never been on a multi-decked starship before whose bridge wasn’t on the highest level, the A Deck.
“It is what we do on Hydra,” Kelly said, apparently reading Daniel’s expression correctly. He was probably used to the reaction. “We always build ships this way. It suits us well!”
“I’ve heard only good about Hydra’s ships and her shippers, Captain,” Daniel said, which was more true than not. The Hydriotes were a clannish lot and, though famously trustworthy for their clients, had a much chancier reputation with those they sold goods to. Still, you could say that about any successful merchant.