IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 40:
When Adele didn’t react further, Triplett smiled shyly. He seemed proud to have an audience. He continued, “Well sir, it was the locals themselves that did it. Not the government, but some of the young men from the old families. The First Blood, they call themselves on New Harmony. The rich folks, pretty much; but not the ones in the government right now.”
“Go on,” Adele said. She watched the inset of the Angouleme Palace out of the corner of her eye. Nothing seemed to be happening—which itself was important, albeit bad, news. She didn’t dare focus on the imagery while listening to Triplett, though, because he’d provide more detail if he thought she was interested.
Which of course she was, though there was suddenly a number of things she was interested in.
“Well, some of them were running privateers,” Triplett said, “raiding shipping from Isfahan and Valigursky, Alliance worlds that’re close by. It looks now like they were meeting with Petersen and the freighters they were saying were prizes, Petersen was giving them to ’em. To the First Bloods.”
“I see,” Adele said. She wondered if Petersen had come up with the plan himself. Reports suggested that there was a large contingent of Fifth Bureau personnel operating with his fleet.
“Well, anyhow, every time they came back from a raid—and there was half a dozen ships that went out one time or another,” Triplett said, “they stopped by the customs boat before they went down to land. And there was usually something good they brought back for the customs crew, you know? Might be some brandy or, or—”
He looked a little embarrassed. They had been the customs service after all.
“Well, you know, something good. And we got used to it, so when a privateer came back in-system and Rasp had the duty, they didn’t think nothing of it. They even told the RCN patrol squadron that there’d be a right fine catch of prizes arriving soonest.”
“What do you mean by ‘the patrol squadron?’ ” Adele said austerely.
“Ozawa always kept half his ships in orbit,” Triplett said. “And they’d trade off. I, well, I didn’t get close to the crews when I was off-duty. I, you know, I was afraid somebody’d recognize me even after all those years. I don’t mind telling you, I felt sick when a huge bloody RCN fleet showed up on New Harmony and me a deserter. But I kept low and it was all right, at least as long as it went on.”
“Go on,” said Adele, not giving anything away with her voice.
“So Skeeter, Skeeter Morne, he was engineer of Rasp, he says the locals linked a sealed walkway like usual and come across,” Triplett said. He was twisting his cap again. “Only this time the packages had guns inside, and when the El-Tee—that was Goldfarb, an old guy and wouldn’t say boo to a goose. But he put his hand on the control panel or they thought he was going to and they shot him, just shot him, poor old Goldfarb. Shot him dead.”
Triplett shook his head. The results of short-range gunfire in weightlessness were beyond the imagination of those who hadn’t seen it happen. Blood went everywhere. That was the thing that had most impressed Adele when all her targets were down and she had time to reflect.
“And it wasn’t prizes coming in after them,” Triplett said, “it was the whole Alliance fleet. But the duty squadron expected prizes, so they weren’t so quick off the mark as they might’ve been. Even so it might’ve been all right, except when the off-duty squadron started to lift, a harbor defense battery nailed both battleships. With antiship missiles, you know, close enough to spit at. And then it was kitty bar the door.”
Somebody out in the corridor cried something obscene about backstabbing wogs. The tone of voice was tearful rather than angry; perhaps the speaker had a friend or relative with Admiral Ozawa.
“Well, the other ships lifting, they got some guns unlimbered quick enough that the First Bloods didn’t have time to reload the launchers of the battery they’d captured.”
Triplett cleared his throat. “To tell the truth,” he went on, his voice a little quieter, “it got pretty hairy around the harbor for a while. It was just the one battery, you see, but the ships didn’t know that and they shot up most anything till they was too high to do any good. Even the poor old Lyn took one, but it was just four-inch and I’d guess whoever was doing the shooting was half a mile up by then. We could’ve been back in service in a day or two.”
“And the two battleships in orbit?” Adele said. She’d found that listening closely while the subject told his own story was generally the most effective way to get information, but Triplett seemed to be slipping into a reverie on his days in the New Harmony customs service. It had been a comfortable life and must in the spacer’s current troubles seem a lost Paradise.
“Yeah, well, when the Heidegger and Hobbes crashed in the harbor, there wasn’t much hope for the ships already aloft,” Triplett said, nodding three times in emphasis. “From what Skeeter says, whoever had the patrol squadron told the light ships to run while the Locke and the Aquinas stayed to fight. Petersen wouldn’t worry about cruisers and little stuff while there was battleships launching at him. They lasted long enough for the rest to get away, most of ’em. Even the ones lifting off when it all popped.”
His face scrunched into a worried frown. “On the Merkur I heard people talking like the survivors ran to Cacique,” he said. “But they didn’t know, they was just guessing. Petersen didn’t chase them, he landed enough ships to put things his way on the ground. And he sent the Merkur off to Karst here to tell the new Headman about it. As I guess you figured.”
“Yes,” said Adele, “I did.”
Cacique was the main RCN base in the Montserrat Stars, four or five days’ travel from New Harmony. The Alliance spacers might have been guessing, but it was an obvious guess.
Adele considered. She had a great deal of experience in learning unpleasant facts. This was just another sequence of them. She smiled faintly: it was certainly an impressive sequence, though.
“Woetjans,” she said, “find a place for Triplett in one of your watches, if you will. When Captain Leary returns, he may make other arrangements.”
This wasn’t under a signals officer’s purview. Adele wasn’t acting as a signals officer at the moment.
“Ah, sir?” Triplett said. “I can put my hand to most anything on a ship, sure. But I’ve got a Power Room rating.”
“Yes,” said Adele, “and very possibly you’ll be transferred to the Power Room at some future point. But not at present.”
“Oh!” said Triplett, wilting under her icy smile. A saboteur in the Power Room could do a great deal of damage if he waited for the right time. “Yessir, sure. I’m not a spy or anything, but sure, I see.”
Triplett left the bridge between Woetjans and Barnes. In the corridor, spacers babbled questions about the battle at him.
Vesey rose to her feet at the navigation console. She nodded to Adele, silent acceptance of her disposition of the deserter. “Back to your duties, the rest of you,” she ordered sharply.
The order wasn’t directed at Adele, but she’d already returned to her proper business. At the moment, that meant watching what was going on in the Angouleme Palace. Her face, already set in its usual firm lines, became a little more grim.