IN THE STORMY RED SKY — snippet 36

IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 36:

Under other circumstances Daniel might have objected to both the captain and the first lieutenant leaving the Milton at the same time, but in truth the result suited him quite well. Vesey would be in charge. She wasn’t a better officer than Robinson, but if the situation went badly wrong–and Daniel didn’t have to see the Merkur seven slips away to know that it might–Vesey would defer to Adele. Given the fashion in which things were most likely to go wrong, Adele was the proper person to decide countermeasures.

“Oh, Danny’s ready,” said Forbes with a dismissive wave. “I told him back on Paton that I’d want you all along. Well, it goes without saying, doesn’t it?”
It shouldn’t have gone without First Lieutenant Robinson saying something to his captain, Daniel thought, but he merely smiled. He touched the commo bead clipped to his left epaulette and said, “Mister Robinson, join her Excellency and myself in the entry hold, if you will. Break, Ship, the vessel will be under the command of Lieutenant Vesey until Three or I return. Six out.”
He nodded to Forbes and went on, “Your Excellency, I’ll lead the way if you don’t mind. A ship this size is something of a maze, and you don’t want to get lost on the way to the entry hold.”
Woetjans waited in the corridor just outside the bridge. She’d slung a stocked impeller, but the length of high-pressure tubing stuck under her belt reflected her personal taste in weapons.
“Beg your pardon, Cap’n Leary,” the bosun said with what for her was unusual formality. “The car’s rated for twelve, but I figure we can squeeze in eight of us; and more if the civvies stay here on the Millie till we’ve checked out the locals, hey?”
She grinned at Hogg and said, “Not you, buddy,” and then glanced down at Senator Forbes. Beyond the fact that they were both remarkably unattractive women, they were a complete contrast.
“And I don’t mean you neither, ma’am,” Woetjans said. “You gotta come, I see that, but you’ll want folks around who can get you out of trouble if they have to, and this poofter–”
The contemptuous thumb she jerked toward Platt was as brown and gnarled as a briar root.
“–can’t cut it.”
“Chief,” said Daniel sharply, knowing that he wasn’t going to be able to save the situation but trying to anyway, “this is a friendly embassy to a civilized–”
“Leary, get this oaf, this animal, out of my sight!” said Senator Forbes. “I swear if I see her again, I’ll have her dismissed from the service right here on Karst! Get her out!”
“Woetjans, to the BDC, now!” Daniel said. He pointed down the A Level corridor. “Now!”
“Aye-aye sir!” the bosun said. She turned and set off for the BDC at a shambling trot. She wasn’t used to running–riggers preferred to shuffle with both magnetic boots on the surface–but her legs were long and they took her out of the range of Forbes’ anger before another blast issued.
Woetjans didn’t argue, of course: she behaved reflexively the way any chief of rig behaved when the captain bellowed something in that tone.
And Daniel hadn’t argued that a senator was out of Woetjans’ chain of command and that he as her captain would make any necessary decisions regarding her punishment. Given that Woetjans was simply being zealous in the fashion that had stood the Republic in good stead many times during her service under Daniel, there wasn’t going to be any punishment.
Which didn’t mean that Daniel was going to baulk the ambassador’s quite reasonable irritation. Forbes hadn’t been the sort of places Woetjans–and Daniel–had been; just as Woetjans didn’t understand that Port Hegemony at present wasn’t one of those places.
Forbes glared in fury at the bosun’s retreating back. It struck Daniel that it was a bad idea to insult and threaten people who were enthusiastically willing to put themselves between you and danger, even if you didn’t feel that their sacrifice would be required. Indeed, that might be one of the more important differences between a man who was still called Speaker Leary, long years after he’d surrendered the post, and a woman who’d risen to a major ministry but was now fleeing her colleagues’ derision.
“And Leary?” said Forbes, her eyes still glittering after she shifted them onto Daniel. “That servant of yours isn’t going either.”
“Your Excellency…,” said Hogg, his hands jammed deep in his side pockets. The fact he bothered to get the form of address right showed how worried he was. “Look, I think–”
“I don’t want that scruff anywhere near me, do you hear?” Forbes said in a steeply rising inflection. She didn’t look at Hogg. “We’re here to impress the Headman, not convince him that Cinnabar is a haven for subnormal yokels!”
“I wonder, Senator Forbes?” said Adele, unexpectedly rising from her console. “Would you mind terribly if my servant Tovera joined your party? I’d regard it as a favor.”
Tovera got up from one of the pair of jumpseats framing the hatch; the cushion thumped against the bulkhead. She wore a beige business suit. It was clean but utilitarian instead of being a marvel of tailored simplicity like the suits Adele wore now that prize money permitted her to act the part of Mundy of Chatsworth when her duties required it.
Adele made a slight gesture to direct the senator’s eyes. Forbes frowned, but puzzlement had replaced the anger of moments before.
“I know which fork to use at dinner, your Excellency,” Tovera said. A spider cajoling a fly to come closer couldn’t have sounded more calmly reasonable.
“What an excellent idea!” said Daniel. Not for the first time, Adele had provided a single neat solution to several problems–which in this case included punishing Forbes for her behavior to a Leary’s retainers. “Not only will you be helping Lady Mundy in her duties–”
He smiled broadly to emphasize the threat.
“–but Tovera’s presence will help morale.”
He didn’t say whose morale would be improved; in fact, he thought the whole ship’s company would breathe a little easier to know that Tovera was going along with Six. He wasn’t sure that anybody aboard the Milton really liked Adele’s servant, but she was universally respected.
Hogg grinned at Forbes. When he chose to–as now–he could manage to look as though his intellect would rise if his brain were replaced by a rutabaga. “I’ll tell you, Excellency,” he said. “I know which fork to use at dinner too. Only with me, you’d have to worry I’d steal them, you see?”
“Shall we go, your Excellency?” said Daniel. “I’m sure Mister Robinson is waiting.”
He stepped nonchalantly through the hatch. He didn’t look behind him until he reached the companionway to see if Forbes and her party were following. They all were.
Tovera was at the end of the line. She grinned when she caught Daniel’s eye.

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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