IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 35:
CHAPTER 10: Port Hegemony, Karst
“Six, this is Three,” said Lieutenant Commander Robinson, using the command channel instead of a two-way link. “All post-landing procedures are complete, over.”
The Milton rang in a dozen different keys as elements of her hull and outriggers cooled to the surface temperature of Karst. Daniel found the most unexpected difference between the heavy cruiser and the Princess Cecile was how much longer–and noisier–the process of reaching ambiance after landing was on the larger ship.
“Roger, Three,” said Daniel. “Break. Ship, this is Six. I’m going to open her up. You can deal with the bumboats to your heart’s content–”
Hearts’ content wasn’t high in the list of what spacers wanted after a voyage, even the relatively short four days from Paton, but the harbor’s little trading craft would provide booze and negotiable affection in sufficient quantity.
“–but liberty won’t start for six hours. I need that long to get a handle on the social–”
He meant “political,” of course.
“–temperature here, Millies. Those of you who’ve served with me in the past know that I’ll give you liberty as soon as I can. Those of you who haven’t, well–remember that I’m a Leary of Bantry, and I’m not even a little bit interested in your opinion. Six out.”
Adele was extremely busy, which was only to be expected immediately after landing in a foreign port. All foreign ports were potentially hostile, of course, though if that were more than a theoretical possibility here, Daniel wouldn’t have brought the Milton down to the surface.
The AFS Merkur, an Alliance destroyer most recently assigned to Admiral Anton Petersen’s squadron in the Montserrat Stars, was already in the harbor; she was unquestionably hostile. A destroyer wasn’t a threat to a heavy cruiser, of course; but the fact an Alliance vessel was here in the capital of the Hegemony would’ve been worrisome even without the previous reports of the new Headman’s doubtful attitude toward Cinnabar.
“Mister Robinson,” Daniel said, switching back to the command push manually, “you may open her up. Six out.”
Robinson didn’t bother to give an order. When he activated the undogging mechanism of the main hatch, the sound of bolts withdrawing echoed through the cruiser from the entry hold. Spacers all over the vessel cranked open ports and access panels in response, letting in air that hadn’t been processed repeatedly from a fugg of lubricants, hot electronics, and close-packed humans.
Daniel smiled. The only reason the crew had waited this long was that they knew that Senator Forbes was aboard. They weren’t going to embarrass the RCN and their captain by acting in a fashion that a civilian would consider undisciplined. And if any present crewmembers didn’t understand that basic bit of courtesy, there were plenty of former Sissies around who’d provide the lesson with a quick boot or a fist.
An orange legend pulsed along the bottom of the command display, overlaying the schematic of expendable stores: SENATOR FORBES HAS ENTERED THE BRIDGE. Adele considered it her business to inform the captain of anything she thought he needed to know.
Forbes, her secretary, and her male bimbo had all entered the compartment. Two Marines were stationed in the hatchway, but they’d chosen not to prevent these particular unauthorized entries.
That was a good thing. If they’d made the Senator angry, Daniel would’ve had to protect them because they were carrying out his orders. That would have been unfortunate.
He collapsed his holographic display and smiled brightly. “Good afternoon, Senator,” he said brightly. “By local time, that is. I thought the Millie made a very smooth landing, didn’t you? You’ve brought us luck on our maiden voyage.”
“I believe I warned you once about trying to manipulate me, did I not, Leary?” said Senator Forbes. Her voice was as harsh as usual, and even louder than the background chorus of the starship’s cooling fabric required.
“Yes, Excellency, you did,” Daniel said. “The Millie is a big ship, Alliance-built and straight from a major rebuild. All those things mean her crew can expect trouble. I pushed her hard on the run to Paton, and then from Paton to Karst. She performed like a fully worked-up thoroughbred.”
He coughed to insert the necessary pause. This was tricky, but he had to penetrate Forbes’ general anger at the world. Otherwise, sure as the sun rose, that anger would find a way to crucify him in the course of this embassy.
“If you choose to be offended that I consider you a lucky charm, so be it,” he said, bowing slightly. “But the Milton’s very important to me, Senator, and that is how I feel.”
Forbes wore her official robes, flowing white with only the thin black hem of a back-bencher. Daniel noticed–because Speaker Leary’s son noticed this sort of detail as surely as a naturalist noticed a lizard’s breeding coloration–that the robes were new. When Forbes gave up her cabinet post as a result of losing the Speakership struggle, she hadn’t simply removed the broad red stripe she’d worn as Minister of Finance.
Forbes’ face broke into a grudging smile. “I see why you have the reputation you do with women, Leary,” she said. “Well, I suppose I don’t mind being treated as a woman occasionally. I trust the aircar is ready?”
The regular establishment of a heavy cruiser included an aircar when the vessel served as a flagship. In the present instance the Milton carried two aircars, but one was disassembled and intended as a spare in event of an accident.
“Chief Pasternak loaded it at the front of a G Level hold,” Daniel said, nodding agreeably. “The driver’s warming it up already.”
Daniel didn’t know the Milton well enough yet to identify the sound of ducted fans running up in a hold just above the waterline, but he’d done an optical check on the compartment as soon as they were settled on the surface. If there was a problem, he wanted to know about it before Forbes asked. Fortunately, there didn’t appear to be one.
“The driver will fly it to the dock, where you and your party can board in safety.” Daniel paused, coughed, and went on, “Ah, Senator? Will you want members of the ship’s company with you?”
“I’ll take you, my nephew, and Lady Mundy,” Forbes said. “The ones who won’t embarrass me, of course. Where is Mundy?”
“Remember where we are, your Excellency,” her effeminate secretary said. “An engine wiper would raise the tone of the Headman’s palace, I’m sure.”
“I regret that I won’t be able to accompany you, your Excellency,” said Adele, seated at the signals console as usual. She was wearing utilities, which meant the Senator’s mind had completely disregarded her when she glanced about the bridge. “I’m not dressed for visiting.”
Almost as an afterthought, she turned and looked up. She met Forbes’ startled expression and added, “Duty calls, you’ll appreciate.”
“Oh, surely!” said the secretary. “Senator Forbes is more important than your grubby little files!”
“Hold your tongue, Platt…,” said Forbes. The threat was all the more credible because she didn’t raise her voice. “Or I’ll have it removed!”
Even a senators are afraid of Adele’s other employer, Daniel thought. Because it wasn’t fear of Admiral Vocaine that drew such an angry response from Forbes.
“I’m ready, your Excellency,” Daniel said calmly, touching the lapel of his 1st Class uniform. He was wearing his foreign medals, which tended to be a great deal flashier than those which the RCN awarded. “I’ll check with Robinson, who may want to change uniform for a formal occasion.”