IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 30:
Daniel was confident that Adele would need only the course pack, but there might be other useful information aboard the Spezza… and besides, it suited Captain Daniel Leary to give the Brotherhood of Amorgos a little lesson in civilized behavior.
“Yes, I’m sure Officer Mundy will be able to solve this, gentlemen,” Daniel said. “I’m afraid the solution comes at what you will consider a heavy price, Colonel, but sometimes that’s the way. Military men like you and me are used to paying heavy prices, aren’t we?”
He gave Stockheim a hard smile. “I’ll summon her immediately.”
The freighter’s boarding ramp loomed before them as they splashed across the harbor. “Hang on tight!” called Dasi, the driver–the coxswain?–of the amphibious truck. Adele gripped her bench, but Barnes, seated inside her, reached around with both arms and clamped his hands on the sidewall.
“Yee-hah!” the two riggers cried together. The front pair of the vehicle’s six wheels jolted onto the ramp in a spray of water and unidentifiable flotsam. The tires gripped and the truck continued to crawl the rest of the way up. The water-jet in the stern whirred till the middle wheels were clear also.
“That’s far enough!” Daniel shouted from the entry hatch. He circled his index finger at Dasi before making a chopping gesture.
Whether or not Dasi heard the words, he knew what his captain had in mind. He swung the truck broadside to the slope and brought it creaking to a halt. The fins of the idling diesel rang like an ill-tuned wind chime.
“See, safe as houses, ma’am!” Barnes said, beaming as he stood and swung up the half-hatch behind them. “Here, let me get the steps.”
“I could probably get out without breaking my neck, Barnes,” Adele said with a tinge of irritation, but that wasn’t fair. Probably, yes, but by no means certainly. The crew knew that their captain demanded that Adele certainly not break her neck.
Since Adele’s earliest days with the RCN, Woetjans had made her safety the responsibility of Barnes and Dasi. There was no question that the common spacers respected Adele, but they also considered her–to quote Daniel, a countryman to the bone–as awkward as a hog on ice.
She felt herself grin as she dismounted from the vehicle, holding her case of specialized equipment in her left hand. Daniel caught the expression and said, “Officer Mundy?”
“I was wondering, Captain,” Adele said, “whether I could find imagery of a hog on ice. I wasn’t raised on a farm, you see.”
“Umm,” said Daniel, deadpan. “I have a trained librarian on my staff, Mundy. I’ll set her to the problem as soon as she’s completed her current tasks. I’m glad to see you made it safely.”
“So am I,” said Adele. “Though drowning is supposed to be a relatively painless way to die.”
Tovera got out on the other side. She swung down one-handed, holding her case–which on the outside was deceptively similar to Adele’s–by the other. The vehicle stood high enough on its all-terrain tires. Adele had to admit that the Dasi’s support really was helpful, since she didn’t intend to let her code breaking paraphernalia out of her hand.
“I noticed that. May I ask, Dasi,” said Daniel, his tone making it clear that he was asking and that he’d have an answer, too, “why the bloody hell you didn’t bring Officer Mundy by the concrete esplanade?”
“Chief Pasternak said there’s two of these cars on a cruiser’s complement,” Dasi said, grinding his right boot toe onto the ramp. “But nobody’s tried them out on water yet, so Barnes and me thought….”
Both riggers looked off into the sky at angles.
“Use better judgment in the future, spacers,” Daniel said quietly. “I know you wouldn’t survive the loss of Officer Mundy, so I won’t offer any pointless threats. But use better judgment.”
“Sorry, Six,” Dasi muttered to empty air. Barnes scowled and nodded, fiercely in both instances.
“Come,” said Adele, her tone sharpened by embarrassment. “Let’s get to the matter at hand.”
With Daniel in the hatchway were Cory, a barbaric-looking spacer, and a very fit older man in battledress. The last wore a large pistol with a fold-down front grip in a belt holster; it was either fully automatic or it threw a much heavier slug than most handguns.
Adele smiled faintly. If you put most rounds in your target’s eye, you could generally make do with a pocket pistol.
“My name’s Kelly,” said the spacer, “and the Spezza’s mine–mine and my uncles’. If you can get us on our way, Mundy, there’ll be a bottle of something choice for you.”
He turned and started across the entrance hold. “And you, Leary,” he added over his shoulder.
“Wait a minute,” said Stockheim with growing anger. “Leary, what do you mean by this? Both of these persons are female!”
Daniel and the Hydriote continued walking. Adele had no intention of responding–she was aboard ship by invitation of its captain and by Daniel’s orders. But–
“Technically you might be correct, Colonel Stockheim,” Tovera said. “But please don’t let your hormones lead you into unprofessional conduct.”
“What!” said Stockheim. The exclamation was no more a question than that of a man who’s set his hand on a hot burner.
“Tovera is my assistant, Colonel,” Adele said, following the two captains onto the bridge. “I choose–” she wasn’t going to lie for this purpose and claim Tovera’s presence was necessary “–to have her with me.”
Stockheim crossed his hands behind his back. He stood as stiffly as if he were before a firing squad, but he met Adele’s eyes. “Captain Leary has already pointed out to me that beggars can’t be choosers,” he said. “And I mean no offense to you personally, Officer Mundy. It’s just that we of the Brotherhood regard women as occasions of sin.”
Another spacer was seated at the right-hand console. He rose with an ill-natured grunt when Kelly jerked a thumb in his direction, and Adele sat down in his place.