A Call To Arms – Snippet 16
Though of course there was also the whole general drying-up of jobs all across the galaxy that were available for under-the-radar groups like Gensonne’s. The predator was still there, but it was an increasingly hungry and desperate one.
And desperation was an emotion Llyn was quite adept at playing.
“I understand that it’s hard for an honest mercenary to make ends meet these days,” he continued. “I’m merely suggesting you might find this job more lucrative as well as more satisfying than simple piracy.”
For another moment Gensonne continued his predator’s stare. Then, he gave a little shrug. “Probably,” he said. “But you’re missing the point. The freighters aren’t supplementary income. They’re practice.”
“Running down ships is an art, Mr. Llyn,” Gensonne said. “One that needs constant practice to maintain. All the training and drills I can give my men can only take them so far. In the end, you need to face someone who genuinely and desperately wants to get away.”
“Ah,” Llyn said, suppressing a shiver. Suddenly, he was starting to see exactly why Anderman had kicked this man off his team.
“I have no opinion one way or the other,” Llyn said. “All I care about, as I said, is whether you’re the ones for my job.”
Gensonne smiled grimly. “The Volsung Mercenaries are very much the ones for your job, Mr. Llyn,” he said. “Have a seat, and let’s talk money.”
* * *
Missile Tech Chief Charles Townsend had been aboard HMS Phoenix for a full week before Travis was finally able to carve out time during midwatch to head back to Aft Weapons and see his old boot camp friend.
The meeting did not go exactly the way he’d expected.
“Lieutenant,” Chomps said formally, floating at attention in the autocannon monitor station. “I’m pleased to see you again, Sir. It’s been a long time since our days at Casey-Rosewood. Congratulations on your success at OCS and your promotion.”
Travis was still trying to think how to react to the other’s unexpectedly cool correctness when Chomps’s face split in a huge grin. Grabbing Travis’s arm, he yanked him close and enfolded him in a big bear hug. “You son of a yard dog,” he said in Travis’s ear. “Man, it’s good to see you, Rule-Stickler.”
Travis was still trying to think how to react to that when Chomps pulled back as quickly as he’d moved in and was once again floating in the kind of formal posture a petty officer was supposed to present to a superior. “I mean, man, it’s good to see you, Rule-Stickler, Sir,” he corrected.
“Nice to see the years haven’t degraded your sense of humor,” Travis managed, still trying to get his brain leveled after the double blindsiding. “If that’s how you typically greet officers, I’m surprised you haven’t been busted to Spacer Third by now.”
“Or lower,” Chomps agreed. “They could bust me to MPARS, you know. Don’t worry — I have a bit more discretion than that.”
“Good,” Travis said, his thoughts flashing back to the awkwardness of his first meeting with Lisa Donnelly when she’d bounced back into his life a couple of years ago. For obvious reasons, of course, this acquaintance renewal felt completely different from that one. “So how’ve you been?”
“Slogging my way up the chain,” Chomps said, dropping into the kind of semiformality that Travis had seen between other officers and petty officers who were also friends. “Due to some apparently chronic glitch in the BuPers computer system, they keep promoting me. And now –” he waved a hand expansively “– here we are, together again.”
“My son, who done good,” Travis said.
Chomps smiled, but there was a seriousness about his eyes. “Thanks to you. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t taken the heat for me when you did.”
“Probably the same thing that happened to me,” Travis said, trying for a light tone. “A slap on the wrist, then business as usual.”
“Maybe,” Chomps said. “Maybe not.” He pursed his lips. “I know I thanked you at the time…but as the years pass and I get older and wiser, I’m able to see even more clearly the risk you took. So again, thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Chief,” Travis said. “Provided we make this the last time you mention it. Officers are used to being cursed out by petty officers. Getting thanked by one plays havoc with our timing.”
Chomps grinned. “Aye, aye, Sir,” he said. “So; hyper limit patrol. Exciting stuff.”
“Certainly less exciting than Casca, anyway,” Travis agreed.
“So you know about that?” Chomps said, his forehead furrowing slightly.
“As least as much as anyone else does,” Travis said suppressing a wince. In the rush of old camaraderie he’d completely forgotten that, while the subject wasn’t exactly classified, Lisa had asked that he not bandy it about. Still, if there was anyone aboard Phoenix with whom he could talk about it, Chomps was certainly it. “Seems to me you’re lucky to be alive.”
“You got that right,” Chomps agreed, his nose wrinkling. “If it hadn’t been for Commander Donnelly –”
He broke off at a sudden violent klaxon blared from the intercom. “General Quarters, General Quarters,” the cool voice of Phoenix’s Weapons Officer, Lieutenant Commander Bajek, came from the speaker. “Set Condition Two throughout the ship. Repeat: set Condition Two throughout the ship.”
Travis felt a sudden tightness in his stomach. Readiness Two? Sixty seconds ago Phoenix had been at Readiness Five.
What the hell had just happened?
“Looks like I spoke too soon about this being boring, Sir,” Chomps said, the easy familiarity abruptly gone.
“I guess we’ll find out, Chief,” Travis felt, hearing the same military precision and formality in his own voice. “We’ll talk later.”
Travis found Lieutenant Brad Fornier, commander of Phoenix’s Missile Division, hovering off to the side in Forward Weapons, watching silently as the partial crew summoned by the Readiness Two order glided in and strapped into their consoles. “Bit late, Long,” Fornier commented as Travis joined him.
“Sorry, Sir,” Travis said, running his eyes over the monitors. Forward Weapons wasn’t ready, but the systems were coming up with gratifying speed.
Those that would be coming up, anyway. One of the tracking sensors and one of the fire-control repeaters were dark, and the electronic warfare assembler was hovering on the edge of failure. Like every other ship in the Navy, Phoenix didn’t have enough spare parts or people to keep everything together. “What do we have here, a drill?”
“Doesn’t sound like it,” Fornier said. “Apparently, CIC’s reporting a hyper footprint on a least-time course from Casca.”
“Could be the Havenite freighter that’s scheduled to be in next week,” Travis suggested.
“If it is, it’s early,” Fornier said. “Not unheard of.”
“But not common.”
Travis scowled as the assembler flickered and died. “There it goes.”
“Damn,” Fornier muttered. “Skorsky?” he called. “Get that assembler back up.”
“Anyway, it sounds like the Captain’s not in a particularly trusting mood,” Fornier continued. “We’re moving to intercept.”
Travis squinted at the range display, running a quick calculation. About ten minutes to com range. “Well, we should know something soon.”
“If the Captain decides to hail her as soon as she’s in range,” Fornier pointed out. “He might prefer to wait until we’ve closed a little more distance.”
“He won’t,” Travis said. “She’s already spotted our wedge and knows we’re heading her way. If we don’t hail as soon as we can she may figure we’re a pirate and run.”
“Which would be pretty much the same response she’d show if she was a pirate,” Fornier conceded. “Which means we wouldn’t learn a thing by doing that.”
“Let’s see if the Captain follows your logic,” Fornier said. “Not to mention regulations. Pull up a chunk of bulkhead, and make yourself comfortable.”