IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 52:
The Marines had properly anchored themselves to bulkheads or fittings so that recoil wouldn’t spin them in all directions if they opened fire. A sergeant with three chevrons on her collar tabs had even extended her sling to loop the airlock’s manual dogging wheel.
“Major Mull!” Daniel said, more sharply than he’d meant. The commander of the Milton’s Marine detachment had personally led the squad aboard the Wartburg and was the last man back from the prize. “Order your troops to put their guns up, if you will. I trust there’ll be no trouble here that requires a gun to finish.”
Mull and his personnel–two were women, a lower percentage than would be found in an equal number of spacers–probably differed on the need to keep their guns pointed. They began to lower or even sling them even before Mull relayed the order which Daniel had properly issued through him, though.
“Those of you who don’t want to serve on the finest ship in the RCN…,” Daniel continued, grinning to make the statement sort of a joke. He was pleased that this time half the prisoners smiled in return. “Will be set down on the first Alliance or neutral world the Milton touches on. I’ll give you a month’s pay out of my own pocket to replace the bindles you’ve had to leave behind on the Wartburg. I’m a Leary of Bantry, and we don’t hold it against common spacers that they have a brute like Guarantor Porra for their master.”
In normal operation, the inner and outer hatches of an airlock couldn’t be opened at the same time. With the umbilicus in place, the cross-locks had been disconnected–electronically on the cruiser’s bridge and mechanically at the hatch by a tech in Robinson’s prize crew.
The current of air which Daniel felt was a reminder that the seals and even fabric of the umbilicus were leaking, but hatches leaked anyway and ships were equipped to replace lost atmosphere. This slight extra wastage wouldn’t be a problem.
“You’ll be taken aft now to the BDC, where Lieutenant Blantyre will enroll and assign watches to those of you who want to join the Millie,” Daniel said. “Those of you who claim advanced ratings will have a chance to prove it. If you satisfy the chief of your department, you’ll receive the higher rate at your first pay parade.”
“What about officers?” asked somebody–Captain Mike Martin, the freighter’s commander almost certainly, the black-bearded man who was holding his cloth cap in front of his mouth to conceal the fact that he was speaking.
“The RCN grants master’s warrants to qualified astrogators,” Daniel said cheerfully. “And a master with skill and ambition can receive a commission even without Academy training. It’s happened often–”
That was a bit of an overstatement, but allowable under the conditions.
“–Captain Martin. When I have a bit more time than I do at the moment, I’ll talk to you about the details.”
Things were going well. When people were discussing terms and conditions of employment, they were no longer so frightened that they were likely to do something desperate. Daniel wasn’t worried that the prisoners would suddenly capture the Milton’s bridge, but if his own Marines opened fire with their sub-machine guns to prevent a rush, there’d be a real problem.
Maybe he’d have been wiser to use spacers for guards. Wrenches and lengths of pipe weren’t going to ricochet lethally off steel bulkheads.
“Any questions?” Daniel said brightly. Without allowing time for anyone to take up his offer, he continued, “Maor?”
One of the Power Room techs was standing in the corridor to watch. He jumped to attention when Daniel called his name.
“Take these spacers, our fellow Millies I hope shortly, to the BDC, if you please.”
He paused, grinning, then sobered and went on, “I know, fellow spacers, that this wasn’t the day you expected when you got up this morning. Nonetheless, if you play your cards right, you may find that it’s the luckiest day of your life. Dismissed!”
“All right, spacers!” Mickey Maor said, his voice cracking with enthusiasm. He was an engine wiper, the–lowly–equivalent of a landsman on the Rig side. He didn’t get many opportunities to lord it over other people. “Lively, now. You’re getting a chance to join the crack ship of the RCN, you are, and serve under the best captain anywhere!”
The prisoners, whom he did hope were on the way to becoming recruits, paddled down the corridor behind her. Major Mull looked at Daniel with a worried expression. He didn’t know how to proceed, and he didn’t want another sharp–though unintended–rebuke for heavy-handedness.
“Follow them with a squad, Major,” Daniel said, making an effort to sound cheerful. “I doubt there’ll be a problem, but we can’t have strangers wandering about the ship unattended in Alliance space, can we?”
In all truth, he needn’t even have bothered with a prize crew. It probably would’ve worked out all right if he’d left the crew on the Wartburg and told them that they were to obey the RCN officers he’d put aboard. Spacers tended to identify with their profession or at most with their planet of origin, not with the aims and ideals of the political body where their ship happened to be registered.
Half the Wartburg’s personnel had probably been born outside the Alliance, and there were doubtless several who’d been subjects of Cinnabar. They’d likely choose to keep that quiet–even if they weren’t, as Triplett had been, RCN deserters–but it was a reality of star travel that every captain, whether naval or civilian, knew and accepted.
Having said that, there were fanatics. The new enlistees would be watched a little closer than usual, but all good petty officers kept an eye on new personnel anyway, to make sure of their competence.
Daniel looked up through the airlock. The umbilicus curved enough to hide anybody twenty feet beyond the cruiser’s hull, but there came Vesey in a rigging suit with the right arm painted silver. Beyond her were other figures, likely Adele and Tovera.
“Excellent timing, Lieutenant!” Daniel called. “Take charge of detaching and stowing the umbilicus, if you will. I want to get under way as soon as I’ve checked the course I’m transmitting to Mister Robinson.”
“Aye aye, sir!” said Vesey, turning quickly but carefully so as not to bump Adele with the stiffened fabric of her hard suit. Her voice had the animation which had been so signally lacking when she called Adele to her.
“Well, Leary,” said Senator Forbes, at his side. She’d come out of her compartment when the prisoners and Marines cleared the rotunda. “I listened to your little speech. You’re your father’s son, I can see. But…?”
“Your Excellency?” Daniel said, since the pause required something.
“How much of it was true, eh?” Forbes said archly.
Daniel smiled. “Well, your Excellency,” he said, “I don’t claim to know Truth with a capital letter; I’m not a priest. But if you mean, ‘What do I believe?’ I believe everything I just told those spacers.”
Shall I? Yes, because she’s pricking me and she needs to know that a Leary can prick back.
“And if you heard what Maor said…,” Daniel said. His smile was just as hard and mischievous as that of Tovera, following Adele out of the airlock. “He believes that too. So far as it touches on the ship, at least–my oath as a Leary that he’s right!”
The outer airlock hatch clanged closed; Vesey was on the job. It might be a while before Daniel learned what had happened between Adele and the lieutenant in the privacy of the umbilicus, but it had been good enough.