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In The Stormy Red Sky: Chapter One

       Last updated: Sunday, December 7, 2008 13:38 EST



And we came to the Isle of Witches and heard their musical cry–
“Come to us, O come, come!” in the stormy red of a sky….
The Voyage of Maeldune
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Bergen and Associates Shipyard, near Xenos on Cinnabar

    “Heart of Steel are our ships!” played the band on the quay. The Bergen and Associates shipyard was decked with bunting and packed with temporary bleachers for this unique occasion. “Heart of Steel are our crews!”

    Like Adele Mundy, the twenty-four bandsmen wore the white 1st Class uniforms of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. Unlike Adele, they were used to Dress Whites. She almost never wore them.

    “We always are ready!” played the band.

    Ordinarily Adele had nothing against great public gatherings in which everybody put on their best clothes and stood around wasting time. She simply found an out-of-the-way corner and amused herself by using her personal data unit to hack into whatever nearby database seemed the most interesting.

    She couldn’t do that here, because the ceremony was in honor of her friend Daniel Leary; soon to be Captain Daniel Leary.

    “Steady crew, steady!”

    The band had been playing marches for twenty minutes, filling time while frantic officials took care of the final details of the ceremony. Adele didn’t pretend to be knowledgeable about music, but she could tell when everybody kept the same time and the notes followed one another in a proper pattern. Both were true here. She frowned, wondering where the musicians came from.

    “We’ll fight and we’ll conquer for we never lose!”

    Adele carried her PDU in a thigh pocket which she’d insisted on in complete disregard for the uniform regulations. Her fingers twitched toward it, but she restrained them with conscious effort.

    Though Daniel wouldn’t mind, others would think that Lady Mundy didn’t respect him. She’d rather die than allow that false notion to spread.

    “That’s the Lao-tse’s band, mistress,” said Sun, her long-time shipmate and Daniel’s as well. He was now a senior warrant officer, gunner of a heavy cruiser, as a reward for his loyal service–and because he’d survived. “They was with us in the Jewel System, you remember.”

    “Yes, Sun, I do,” Adele said dryly. She wondered how the crew of the battleship Lao-tse would react to the implication that they had accompanied the corvette Princess Cecile during the Battle of the Jewel System.

    Though in truth, the Sissie–or at least her captain, Daniel Leary–probably did have more to do with that RCN victory than any other ship present.

    A private shipyard like Bergen and Associates ordinarily worked on ships of 1500 tons or less. RCS Milton, a heavy cruiser of 13,000 tons, filled the pool and dwarfed the yard’s equipment. She’d been repaired here not only because of the demands put on RCN facilities by all-out war with the Alliance but also because the ‘Associates’ in the yard’s name was Corder Leary, no longer Speaker but still one of the most powerful members of the Cinnabar Senate.

    “We ne’er see our foes but we wish them to stay,” boasted the Lao-tse’s band musically. “They never see us but they wish us away!”

    The Milton would lift with a crew of nearly five hundred, a hundred short of establishment but remarkably good when the RCN needed crews worse than it did ships. The spacers were here, packed into corners and angles; standing on the gantries and lining the cruiser’s extended antennas.

    “There’s never been anything like this before!” said Woetjans, the Milton’s bosun. She was six and a half feet tall and would’ve been abnormally strong even for a man of her size. Like Sun, she’d risen by following Daniel Leary, but it’d been at Adele’s side that she’d taken three slugs through the chest. Woetjans claimed to have made a complete recovery, but her face, always craggy, now was cadaverous. Sometimes a gray flash seemed to cross her eyes.

    “If they run, why we follow them,” played the band, “down to their bases.”

    Woetjans was looking at the shipyard offices above the shops. There, sheltered from direct sunlight though the sashes were swung up from the windows, Daniel’s elder sister Deirdre sat with four Senators who were allied with her father. “And nobody bloody deserved it like Six does, neither!”

    “For we can’t do more if the cowards won’t face us!” played the band, climaxing the stanza with a flourish before swinging into the chorus again.

    Adele’s lips quirked in a tiny, bitter smile. Perhaps she was only projecting her own heart when she thought she saw bleakness in the bosun’s. Adele’s ribs occasionally twinged from a wound in the further past, but if physical injuries had been the worst damage she’d taken in RCN service, she’d have slept better.

    “I never dreamed of this,” said Borries, the Chief Missileer. He was a Pellegrinian by birth, but he’d decided not to return to his home world after he survived a battle which took the life of the eldest son of Pellegrino’s dictator. “We’re great men because we’re with Captain Leary. Great men.”

    “Woetjans and I might disagree with you,” Adele said with a straight face. The society of outworlds like Pellegrino was more sexist than the norm of the civilized regions ruled by Cinnabar and the Alliance. “About being men, that is.”

    “Sorry, ma’am,” Borries muttered, flushing. “I didn’t mean that, truly.”

    RCN signals personnel were quite junior. According to the Table of Organization, Adele should have been out on the fringes of the crowd with the common spacers instead of standing beside the dais with the senior warrants.

    The crew, however, had insisted she take a higher place than her rank justified. She was Mistress Mundy, Captain Leary’s friend and a real lady. Adele knew that it wasn’t her title, Mundy of Chatsworth, that impressed the spacers but rather herself–or at any rate, her legend.

    To hear the crewmen’s stories, Mistress Mundy could learn all a databank’s secrets by looking sideways at it and she could shoot her way through a regiment of Alliance soldiers. Those were gross exaggerations–but there was a core of truth to both statements.

    The band swung into a cheerful ditty called The Rocketeers Have Hairy Ears. Spacers in the Milton’s rigging cheered wildly, and both Daniel and Admiral Anston on the low dais grinned.

    It struck Adele that Captain Stickel of the Lao-tse had a robust sense of humor. She’d found a number of different versions of the piece involving Engineers, Cannoneers, and Mountaineers. The various lyrics ranged from obscene to absurdly obscene.

    Adele looked toward the dignitaries in the office. Daniel’s father wasn’t present. Corder Leary and his teenaged son had broken violently on the day Daniel joined the RCN. The elder Leary had made a great number of enemies in a career focused on gaining wealth and power. In particular, he’d crushed the Three Circles Conspiracy in a series of proscriptions that took the lives of many of Cinnabar’s political elite, their families, and their associates.

    No one–no survivor–was willing to deny that the bloody response to treason had been necessary, but afterward even Corder Leary’s closest associates–he had no friends–looked at him askance. He’d had to give up the speakership, though most people still referred to him by the title as a mark of honor and of fear.

    Adele had escaped the Proscriptions by the chance of having just left Cinnabar to study in the Academic Collections on Blythe, the intellectual heart of the Alliance of Free Stars. Her parents and ten-year-old sister Agatha had provided three of the heads nailed to Speaker’s Rock in the center of Xenos, however.

    Adele’s left hand twitched. The tunic of RCN Whites didn’t have pockets, and she hadn’t added a concealed one for the small pistol she normally carried. Senator Mundy had seen to it that his children became dead shots to prevent the sort of challenges which his political radicalism might otherwise have drawn. The ability to shoot accurately with either hand had benefited Adele in the slums she’d frequented when the Mundy fortune was expropriated during the Proscriptions.

    Since she’d met Daniel her pistol had helped him, the RCN, and the Republic of Cinnabar. It had kept Adele alive in difficult circumstances; but when the faces of the dead visited her in the hours before dawn, she wasn’t sure that survival had been a benefit.

    She wasn’t wearing the pistol today; and besides, Corder Leary wasn’t present at the ceremony.

    She forced herself to relax, smiling faintly. Many people thought that Adele Mundy was emotionless. She worked to conceal her emotions and she certainly didn’t let them rule her actions, but they existed. Until she’d met Daniel and become a part of the RCN family, the main emotion she’d felt was red fury. Courtesy alone would’ve made her conceal that to the degree she could.

    Daniel caught Adele’s eye and grinned more widely. She thought it was the first time she’d seen him looking comfortable in the closely tailored Dress Whites. Daniel was fit, but he tended to put on a few pounds if he didn’t watch himself. The rounds of dinners and parties which Xenos offered to a naval hero on leave would’ve made temperance difficult for even someone less sociable than the dashing young Commander Leary.

    His 1st Class uniform fit now because Miranda Dorst, standing with her mother in the front of the crowd facing the dais, was an accomplished seamstress among her other talents. Daniel had never lacked for female company, though he’d had high standards: his companions had to be very young, very pretty, and very intellectually challenged. They’d generally lasted a day–more often a night–and Daniel never even pretended he was going to remember their names.

    Miranda was young enough. Her brother Timothy had been one of Daniel’s midshipmen before his duties put him in the way of a 20-cm plasma bolt from the cruiser Scheer, before its capture and commissioning into the RCN. It was now the Milton, towering above the ceremony.

    Miranda wasn’t strikingly attractive, though Adele had noticed that she became oddly beautiful when she was in Daniel’s company. It was as if she were a silvered reflector behind Daniel’s brilliant flame.

    And unlike the bimbos who’d preceded her, Miranda Dorst appeared to be very clever indeed. Her brother had been a fine officer: brave, well-liked, and equipped with an instinct that took him to the throat of an enemy. He’d have risen high in the RCN, had he survived.

    Intellectually, though…. Well, the best that could be said was that Midshipman Dorst studied very hard and that his personality encouraged others to give him all the help they could. It was unscientific, but anyone who’d met both siblings had to wonder if the sister had gotten a double share of intelligence.

    Adele let her eyes return to the crowd facing the dais, though her mind was still on her friend Daniel. She was smiling as widely as she ever did. He was a reasonably good-looking fellow of average height. He was young for a full commander, and soon he’d be the youngest captain on the Navy House list. You’d see nothing special in an image of him, not even a three dimensional hologram.

    In person, Daniel gave the impression of being twice his real size. His engaging smile lighted a room, and if he’d chosen to make women a business rather than a hobby, he’d have lived very well.

    Adele had always been alone before she’d met Daniel Leary. Since then she had gained Daniel as a friend, and through him the companionship not only the ship’s company he commanded but also the whole RCN. She had a real family, in a fashion that the politically focused Mundys had never been to a studious girl like Adele.

    The Lao-tse’s band was trooping off the quay, playing a What Do You Do With a Drunken Spacer. Replacing them were young men and women, ten of each in parallel files, wearing white shirts and black trousers. They wore shoes as well, but from their awkwardness Adele suspected that for some it was the first time they’d put on any footgear but shapeless farm boots.

    It was a cool day, but the newcomers were sweating profusely. Adele smiled in rare sympathy. She’d felt lost and out of place many times in her life, so she could easily identify with these poor folk.

    She wasn’t lost any more: she was a member of the RCN.

    Adele looked up at the yard offices where Corder Leary would have been had he attended the ceremony. If that cold, brutal man hadn’t had her parents and sister murdered, Adele Mundy would never have found the RCN and the place in the universe where she fit.

    She didn’t believe in Gods or fate or even purpose in any real sense. But sometimes it puzzled Adele to see how very unpredictable the consequences of an event could be.



    Daniel Leary had spent much of his youth in this shipyard, listening to Stacy Bergen and other old spacers tell stories. Uncle Stacy was a legendary explorer who’d opened more routes through the Matrix than any other officer in the RCN. He’d showed his young nephew how to conn a ship from the masthead, feeling a path through the infinite bubble universes instead of simply calculating one. More important, Daniel had learned to love the romance of star travel because Uncle Stacy and his friends did.

    Though now Daniel owned Stacy’s half of the shipyard, he was still a boy full of wonder and delight every time he walked through its gates. Like the swirling majesty of the Matrix, Bergen and Associates was a magical thing which hinted at infinite secrets.

    Daniel instinctively glanced at the sky, though he knew better than most that if there really was a heaven, it wouldn’t be found by going upward. “Thank you, Uncle Stacy,” he whispered, his lips barely moving. “This wouldn’t be happening except for you.”

    He stood in the middle of the dais. To his right were the Milton’s three lieutenants, while to the left stood six retired officers who’d served under Stacy Bergen at some point in their distinguished careers. They were honoring Commander Bergen by attending the promotion of the nephew who’d been like a son to him.

    When young Daniel hadn’t been spending time in the shipyard, he’d been on the family’s Bantry estate learning to hunt, fish, and generally appreciate the natural world. His teacher had been a retainer named Hogg who looked–then as now, standing behind Miranda and her mother–like a simple-minded rustic who’d dressed in a random collection of old clothes.

    Hogg was rustic, all right, but a variety of concealed pockets were sewn into his baggy garments. On Bantry the pockets were for poached game; now they hid a variety of weapons, in case somebody on a distant world thought he’d make trouble for the young master. The man who’d regularly snapped the necks of cute furry animals for his dinner had even less compunction about dealing with wogs who got in the way of a Leary.

    And though Hogg was likely to be direct, there was nothing simple about his mind. Sharpers who thought they’d clean the rube out in a poker game learned that very quickly.

    Mistress Heather Kolb, the wife of Bantry’s overseer, marshalled her paired choruses so that they faced the dais rather than the crowd. She’d told Daniel that the estate’s youths and maidens–if they were maidens, then things had changed since Daniel was a youth at Bantry–had begged to appear at the young master’s promotion ceremony.

    Daniel had been disinherited when he broke with his father. He wasn’t any kind of master now, but he was still a Leary, and he knew the tenants of Bantry would’ve been crushed had he snubbed them. He’d granted their wish, but from the terrified faces they raised to him, they’d have been much happier cleaning offal from the estate’s fish processing plant.

    Admiral Anston, who’d been Chief of the Navy Board until his heart attack, shuffled toward Daniel from the group of retired officers at the end of the dais. Daniel felt a twinge to see with what difficulty the old man moved.

    Everyone in the RCN respected Anston, perhaps the finest chief who’d ever blessed the service. Daniel had met him a few times one-on-one. He didn’t claim to know the admiral well, but he’d known him well enough to feel personal as well as professional regret at Anston’s ill health.

    “Any notion of what’s holding up the show, Leary?” Anston said. “I told them I didn’t want a bloody chair here on the stage, but I’m half regretting that now.”

    “Sir, I’ll get you a chair at once!” said Daniel in horror.

    “You bloody won’t,” said Anston forcefully. “But I’ll put a hand on your shoulder if I may. Old shipmates together, you know.”

    “Sir, I’m honored,” Daniel said. He didn’t add flourishes to the words; the truth didn’t need embellishment.

    The older man let himself sag against Daniel’s arm; he was as light as a bird. Illness had melted away his flesh and turned his ruddy complexion sallow. Daniel thought of repeating his offer of a chair, then swallowed the unintended insult and said, “I believe they’re waiting for two more senators to arrive, sir. Ah, I believe this was some of my sister’s doing.”

    Anston laughed with unexpected good humor. “Bloody politicians, eh, lad?” he said. “But maybe it’ll do us some good in the Navy Appropriation. I know the Learys too well to ignore their judgment when it comes to politics.”

    He coughed. “No offense meant.”

    “None taken, sir,” said Daniel. “But that isn’t me, you know.”

    “Pull the other one, Leary!” Anston said, glaring at Daniel like a sickly hawk. “Yes, you’re a fighting spacer, but you’re a bloody politician too or you wouldn’t be here. And don’t you think I’m the one to know a man can be both?”

    Daniel found himself grinning. “Well,” he said. “Thank you, sir.”

    Mistress Kolb slashed her baton down and up three times with as much determination as if she were beating a rat to death in her pantry. The last stroke was toward the male chorus, which dutifully responded, “Mighty Cosmos, all enclosing, filled with worlds and peoples bold….”

    Anston bent close to Daniel’s ear. “Who’re the liberty suits on the gantry? They’re not your crew, are they?”

    “As You wax and wane eternal, one stands out of all You hold–”

    “No sir,” said Daniel. “They’re the shipyard staff. My Uncle Stacy believed in hiring old spacers where he could, saying that they knew their way around a ship better than any landsman and knew the cost of bad workmanship to the folks who’d have to repair it in the Matrix. We’ve just followed his lead.”

    “Cinnabar, the crown of all worlds,” sang the youths. “Cinnabar, Your chosen world.”

    “And it’s not charity!” Daniel said, with perhaps a touch more vehemence than was helpful to being believed. “An experienced spacer is often more use in a shipyard than a landsman who has all his limbs still.”

    “I never heard complaints about the work we contracted out to the Bergen yard, boy,” said Anston softly.



    Liberty suits were RCN utilities decorated with embroidered patches and, along the seams, colored ribbons bearing the names of the various ports the spacer had called on. A senior warrant officer like Woetjans went on liberty in gorgeous motley, an object of admiration to all who saw her.

    The Milton’s crew were in unadorned utilities for this ceremony, but the yard personnel could wear what they pleased. If that was liberty suits, then they’d earned the right. The peg legs, pinned-up sleeves, and eye patches were proof of that.

    And they were bloody good workmen!

    Mistress Kolb poised her baton. It was a sturdy thing, suitable for battering an opponent into the floor; Daniel wondered fleetingly just how she’d rehearsed her choristers. She cut it down, toward the girls. They caroled, “Fate, Thou Who worlds rules, never bending…”

    Admiral Anston swayed. Daniel put his hand on the older man’s waist, taking more of his weight. Anston muttered a curse, but he got his strength back and straightened.

    “I never let the bloody politicians stop me before,” he said. “That isn’t going to change now.”

    “Fixed Your course, to triumph tending…,” sang the girls. The brunette on the left end had a remarkable pair of lungs in a remarkable chest; Daniel remembered her elder sister well.

    Daniel smiled. He supposed he and Anston looked odd, gripping one another in the middle of a crowd waiting for something to happen, but the two of them were the only folk here who could do as they pleased without people looking askance. Daniel wore only his Cinnabar decorations, not the gaudy trinkets he’d been given by foreign governments. Even so, Anston alone of the officers present had a more impressive chestful of medals.

    “Cinnabar, the crown of all worlds,” sang the girls. “Cinnabar, Your chosen world.”

    Anston turned slightly to look at the spacers lining the Milton’s hull and yards. “You’ve got a full crew, or the next thing to it,” he said approvingly. “Volunteers, I shouldn’t wonder.”

    The joined choruses were praying that Fate and the Cosmos would continue to bless the youth of Cinnabar with purity and their elders with wisdom and peace. It was all silly if you thought about it. Daniel had been a youth recently and a senator’s son all his life; he had no high expectations of purity, of wisdom, or certainly–he was also an RCN officer, after all–of peace.

    But the Festival Hymn struck him much the way each fresh sight of the Matrix did: it rang a chord echoing deep in his heart. Call it childish superstition or patriotism or just the urgent wonder of the not-yet-known–it was there, and Daniel was glad for its presence.

    “Yes sir, volunteers,” Daniel said, grinning with rightful pride. Spacers wanted to serve with Captain Leary. “The change in regulations permitting spacers to follow the officer of their choice had a good effect on the Milton’s recruitment.”

    Anston shuddered in what after a bad moment Daniel realized was laughter, not a coughing fit. “Vocaine didn’t have much choice,” Anston said, swallowing the last of a chuckle. “Every successful officer in the RCN was on him to stop locking their crews up between commissions and parceling them out to whichever ship was short; which all ships are, we don’t have enough spacers. He may dislike you, Leary, but not even the Chief of the Navy Board can ignore what school chums like James of Kithran are telling him.”

    “It worked out well for me,” Daniel said mildly. He wouldn’t brag to Anston, and anyway he didn’t have to.

    He cleared his throat and added, “I was a little surprised, because, well, we both know that the Milton’s an oddball ship. We know it and every spacer on Cinnabar knows it. And I couldn’t promise them loot, not on this commission. But they still came in to volunteer.”

    The male chorus boomed out the names of the many worlds frightened by Cinnabar’s armed might. The women answered with a similar catalog of worlds which had embraced Cinnabar’s mercy and protection and thus were being guided to peace and prosperity.

    Daniel had seen a good deal of how Residents from the central bureaucracy in Xenos governed planets which had fallen under Cinnabar’s control; the reality was less idyllic than the Hymn would have it. Nonetheless, Cinnabar’s rule was greatly preferable to the system of organized rapine by which Guarantor Porra’s minions administered members of the Alliance of Free Stars. Politics and life are the art of the possible.

    “Oddball?” repeated Anston. “A bloody stupid design, I’d call it. Four eight-inch guns instead of eight six-inch on the same hull means you don’t have either the coverage or the rate of fire to deal with incoming missiles. Sure, an eight-inch packs a wallop when it hits, but three or four six-inch bolts do more good anywhere but at long range. And you shouldn’t be burning out your tubes at long range anyway.”

    “Yes sir, as far as defensive use goes,” said Daniel, being very careful not to let his tongue get away with him. The Milton’s my ship, or next thing to it! He coughed. “But eight-inch bolts are very effective against other ships. As I know well, having been on the receiving end of them.”

    The admiral laughed again. “Sorry, Leary,” he said, “sorry. I guess you’d make a garbage scow look like a useful warship if you took her up against the Alliance. And we have our share of peacetime designs, too. But as for spacers joining you–”

    He glanced up at the cruiser’s yards, then met Daniel’s eyes again.

    “I know you didn’t promise them loot, but they’re certain that Captain Leary knows what he’s doing and knows how to take care of his crews. And besides, boy, they know how lucky you are and probably figure you’ll find them loot besides. Which is what I think too, by the Gods!”

    “Sir…,” said Daniel. He paused to organize his thoughts. “Sir, I appreciate your confidence, but we’ll be shepherding a senator to the Veil as an ambassador. As I’m sure you know. We won’t see action, let alone gather up prizes, if we do our job correctly. Which I certainly intend to do.”

    There was a bustle beyond the raised windows of the shipyard office. Looking into the shadowed darkness from this low angle, Daniel could only guess that the missing senators might at last have arrived.

    The workmen on the gantry had a better view of the interior, however. In the center of the trestle stood the man who’d been Lieutenant Mon when he served under Daniel on the Princess Cecile. Mon was a skilled and methodical officer, but a run of bad luck had gained him the reputation of being a jinx. That doomed his chance of success as a ship’s captain, whether in the RCN or the merchant service, but he’d proven an ideal manager for Bergen and Associates while Daniel pursued his naval career.

    Mon’s reserve commission gave him the right to the Dress Whites he wore today, though they bulged at every seam; nobody had let out his set with the skill Miranda had lavished on Daniel’s. He’d chosen to wear his uniform for the same reason his workmen were in liberty suits: this was the RCN’s day.



    Three serving officers came down the outside stairs from the yard offices. The last was Captain Britten, the deputy head of the RCN’s Personnel Bureau; Daniel assumed the male lieutenant commander and the female lieutenant preceding him were aides from the bureau. They made their way toward the dais as briskly as the crowd could part before the aides’ crisp orders.

    Mon raised his arms and snapped, “Ready!” in a carrying tone. Then he dropped his arms and shouted, “Hurrah for Mister Leary!”

    “Hurrah for Mister Leary!” the yard staff bellowed in answer. Obviously they’d rehearsed this.

    The cheer silenced the crowd like a trumpet call. For a moment the chorus of girls sang piercingly of fruitful lands and fecund seas; then Mistress Kolb chopped her baton down. The assembled flower of Bantry bowed low to Daniel, their faces flushed and beaming. Turning, they bounded off the quay with a cheerful enthusiasm that made a striking contrast with their stiff, terrified approach.

    The delegation from Navy House passed between the two choruses. The lieutenant commander handed a ribbon-tied scroll to Britten; then both aides halted, leaving the captain to take the single step onto the dais alone.

    Britten transferred the scroll to his left hand, then came to attention facing Admiral Anston. He threw a much sharper salute than Daniel would ever have been able to do. It was unexpected and completely appropriate.

    Anston no longer had an active commission, but he was largely responsible for the RCN’s present strength. Britten, who’d spent much of his career as a Navy House bureaucrat, was well aware of his former chief’s importance.

    “A pleasure to see you again, Admiral,” Britten said. “Ah… would you care to say a few words? There’s a directional microphone upstairs–”

    He gestured with his chin toward the yard office.

    “–feeding the loudspeakers. I’ll just signal them to aim it at you.”

    “Well, to tell the truth, Darwin,” Anston said. “I talked to my friend Vocaine last night and he’s authorized me to deputize for him. I hope you don’t feel that I’m stepping on your toes.”

    “By the Gods, sir!” Britten said, holding out the scroll. “You certainly are not.”

    Anston untied the document. He was standing unsupported, which made Daniel’s eyes narrow with concern. For the moment at least he seemed as solid as a bollard. Taking a broad-nibbed stylus from his sleeve–Dress Whites didn’t have pockets–he said, “Give me your back as a table, Darwin.”

    Britten obediently turned and hunched slightly to provide a slanted writing surface. Anston crossed out the signature of Klemsch, Secretary to the Navy Board, and wrote his own above it.

    “All right,” he muttered, putting the stylus away as Britten scuttled to the side.

    Anston looked at the yards of the Milton, solid with spacers, then faced the crowd. Britten pointed toward the office and swung his finger toward Anston before dropping his hand to the side.

    “Fellow spacers!” Anston said. The new speakers on both sides of the office boomed back his words, but his unaided voice was stronger and steadier than it’d been when he was talking to Daniel. “Fellow spacers, senators, and citizens of Cinnabar!”

    Daniel grinned without intending to. It was typical of Anston that he’d give spacers pride of place over members of the Senate. He probably would’ve been more politic if he were still in office, but as a private citizen he could make his personal preferences known.

    Anston waved the crackling document to the crowd. It was real parchment, impressed with two red wax seals from which fluttered a blue ribbon and a white ribbon.

    “This is no longer my duty,” Anston said, “but I’m glad to say that I find it a great pleasure.”

    Spreading the document with both hands and moving it slightly outward to where his eyes could focus comfortably, he read, “By the powers vested in my by the Senate, I hereby appoint Daniel Oliver Leary to the rank and authority of Captain in the Navy of the Republic of Cinnabar–”

    Hogg cheered like a boar challenging the world. The Bantry contingent joined with enthusiasm, followed by almost all the other civilians at ground level. Madame Dorst started to cheer also, but Miranda laid her fingertips over her mother’s mouth to shush her.

    Daniel held himself at attention, blushing with embarrassment for what his friends had done. Anston looked nonplussed for a moment; he’d probably never attended a promotion ceremony at which many of the spectators were civilians who didn’t know the drill.

    When the noise died down, he resumed, “The rank of captain, as I say, his duties to commence with the reading of this order. This is signed by Darwin Britten, Captain, Deputy Chief of the Bureau of Personnel, and countersigned by Admiral Eldridge Vocaine, President of the Navy Board, by George Anston, his deputy for this purpose.”

    Anston let the parchment roll itself up and handed the scroll to Daniel. “Captain,” he said, “allow me to be the first to give you the salute in your new rank.”

    He shot his right hand to his brow, wincing as his arm rose above shoulder level. Nonetheless, he completed the salute.

    Daniel returned it, his eyes blurring with tears. This was all quite improper: admirals don’t initiate an exchange of salutes with junior officers. It was the greatest honor anyone had ever paid him.

    People were babbling and cheering. Captain Britten helped to support Anston, moving him back from the crush of folk mounting the dais to congratulate Daniel.

    Hogg bumped Daniel from the side. “Hold your bloody arms still, young master!” he said. “Else I’m likely to put one of these pins through your wrist while I give you your new stripes. And won’t you look silly then, all blood over your white uniform?”

    “What?” said Daniel. “Oh, sorry, Hogg.”

    He held both forearms out from his body while his servant pinned a narrow gold stripe around the right sleeve above the two broad stripes of a commander. The Milton’s crew cheered from the yards like a choir of hoarse, profane angels.

    Hogg moved around to Daniel’s left arm. “And if they look a bit worn…,” he said. “That’s because they’re the pair off Admiral James’ old captain’s uniform that he told me to fetch for you when I got back to Xenos. I guess it’s not much of a comedown for them to go on a Leary’s sleeve, is it, young master?”

    “I’d like to think it wasn’t,” Daniel said, his eyes glittering again. He was no longer sure that Anston’s salute was the greatest honor he’d ever receive.

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