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In The Stormy Red Sky: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 19:57 EST



Bergen and Associates Shipyard, Cinnabar

    “Captain Leary?” said the lieutenant who’d accompanied Britten. She was slender but obviously wiry: she’d fought her way through the crush to reach Daniel.

    She extended a sealed document, this time a functional plastic bifold rather than a parchment to be hung in a place of honor. “I’ve brought your orders from Navy House.”

    “Thank you, McCoy,” Daniel said, reading the nametag on her left breast. He reached out, trying to hold his left sleeve in place for Hogg but tilting his torso sideways to take the document. “Lieutenant Vesey?”

    He frowned. He should’ve called for Robinson, his First Lieutenant; he’d named Vesey instead by reflex, because of the number of cruises they’d made together. Vesey had risen from midshipman to lieutenant under him, and she was an important part of the team which had catapulted Daniel to captain.

    “Call the crew to stations,” Daniel continued, raising his voice over the babble. “I’ll read my orders to the company, as soon as I reach the bridge.”

    Vesey was in Whites like the rest of the officers, but a quartermaster holding a commo helmet stood just behind her. She put the helmet on in place of her saucer hat, technically a violation of regs. The helmet’s active sound cancelling was much more practical than a hand communicator in a crowd chattering like surf on the rocks.

    “All crew to liftoff stations!” ordered the Milton’s external loudspeakers. Distortion robbed Vesey’s voice of character, but in truth that voice was in keeping with the plain woman it belonged to. She was a good officer with a real flair for astrogation, though. “All crew to liftoff stations!”

    Daniel frowned to see the confusion on the upper hull. The cruiser had eight airlocks, but only the four on her dorsal spine were usable while she floated in harbor as now.

    Even so the business would’ve gone smoothly if the riggers who handled the antennas and sails were the only ones trying to use those locks. The Power Room crew had been mustered on the hull also, since there wasn’t room for them to watch from the shipyard proper. Some of the technicians were very nearly as clumsy out on the hull as Adele, which–Daniel grinned–was saying something.

    The thought made him turn to find her. No one was more important to his promotion than Adele. Not Signals Officer Mundy or Lady Mundy, though she was those things too: my friend Adele.

    To Daniel’s surprise, Adele was already going up the ramp into the main hold. She was a little apart from the Milton’s other officers but walking in close company with Britten’s male aide, Lieutenant-Commander Huxford.

    “Officer Mundy?” Daniel called, raising his voice to be heard twenty yards away. He’d nearly said, “Adele.”

    Adele turned, her expression calm and mildly inquisitive. She rarely smiled and almost never frowned. Daniel didn’t make the mistake of thinking that she was emotionless because she didn’t show emotion.

    He mimed shoving a path through the crowd of well-wishers. “Wait a moment, Officer Mundy,” Daniel said, stepping into the ruck. Because he kept his eyes focused on Adele, he could bump through the people around him without being obviously offensive. “I’ll come up to the bridge with you.”

    “If you wouldn’t mind, Captain Leary…,” said Huxford. He was a very polished young man, a scion of the nobility who’d learned refinement and politesse in the years that Speaker Leary’s boy had spent hunting and fishing on a rural estate. “Officer Mundy and I have some troublesome business to transact in the Battle Direction Center. I’m sure it won’t take long, though.”

    “Ah,” said Daniel. He forced a smile, though he didn’t work very hard at making it believable. Apparently Huxford wasn’t part of the Navy House bureaucracy after all.

    Daniel was aware of Adele’s duties for Mistress Sand, the Republic’s spymaster, but the less he knew about the details, the happier he was. The less unhappy he was, rather. “Yes, of course. A very good day to you, Huxford. Officer Mundy, please join me when you can.”

    Now that he had time to take in the situation, Daniel saw that two husky men accompanied Huxford. They wore RCN utilities, but they probably knew as little about naval service as the lieutenant commander himself.

    Daniel smiled tightly. Adele’s servant Tovera was part of the entourage also. If push came to shove, Huxford’s heavies wouldn’t last a heartbeat. Tovera’s bite probably wasn’t poisonous, but the colorless little sociopath liked to kill and had gotten a great deal of practice.

    The Milton’s officers had paused when they heard their captain hail Adele. Daniel joined them, striding up the boarding ramp.

    “Congratulations, sir,” said Blantyre, newly promoted and the cruiser’s Third Lieutenant. “We’re off to burn the Alliance a new one with their own ship, eh?”

    Robinson and Vesey murmured with similar politeness. The former, a slender lieutenant commander of Daniel’s own twenty-six years, showed the degree of reserve to be expected of a stranger who knows that political pressure foisted him on a highly regarded officer.

    Daniel laughed. “I hope and expect that we’ll make a very sedate shakedown cruise,” he said. “I want to learn the old girl’s crotchets before we try conclusions with the Alliance. I’m sure that’s what Navy House had in mind when they assigned us to take an embassy to a friendly place like the Angouleme Palace on Karst.”

    There were four companionways in the Milton’s boarding hold. Armored tubes protected circular staircases wide enough to allow two spacers in hard suits to use them side by side, though whoever was on the outside covered twice the distance as the inner.

    Robinson and the lieutenants paused so that Daniel could enter the forward Up shaft ahead of them, then got in behind him. Their soft boots set up a series of whispering echoes on the steel treads, joining those of the spacers already above them in the companionway.

    Daniel kept his eyes turned up like a trained spacer rather than looking at his feet. This was more proper than that he should enter his new command at the side of a junior warrant officer, of course.

    But he’d have liked his friend Adele to be with him. And if he’d ever cared much for propriety, he’d have been a less effective servant of the Republic of Cinnabar.



    The Battle Direction Center was in the Milton’s stern, nearly two hundred yards from the bridge. It was unlikely that damage which destroyed both would leave anything of the rest of the cruiser. If the bow were blasted off, the team under the First Lieutenant in the BDC could fight what remained of the ship.

    As Huxford closed the armored hatch behind them, Adele walked to the star of six control consoles in the center of the compartment. She sat on the couch of the nearest and rotated it outward, away from its holographic display. She didn’t mind standing, but she had to be seated to take out her data unit and bring it live. The floor would’ve been satisfactory, but since the couch was available, she used it.

    Huxford turned, beaming, from the hatch. “I thought this was a rather clever way to get privacy for our little chat,” he said.

    “Go on,” said Adele. A smile lifted the right corner of her lips. Perhaps this Gordon Huxford thought that meant she was in a good mood. He appeared to be stupid and unobservant enough to think that.

    She was actually smiling because by using his credentials from Navy House to send the usual BDC personnel to the bridge, Huxford had guaranteed that every officer on the Milton would wonder what was going on. The consoles were powered up and, though they were in resting mode, there were at least a dozen of the cruiser’s personnel who could use them to eavesdrop on the BDC.

    Even Daniel could do that, though he was probably too busy at the moment. Adele had a variety of regrets at this moment, but one of them was that she couldn’t be on the bridge when her friend read his first orders aboard his powerful new command.

    Huxford smiled again, this time triumphantly. “Well, not to dawdle, mistress,” he said, “it’s about the attempt to award you the RCN Star. Our department has had to quietly quash it, of course, and we’d thank you not to allow the matter to come up again.”

    “Pardon?” said Adele. She used a pair of electronic wands to control her personal data unit. They flickered now, calling up information on “the RCN Star,” words which meant nothing to her. She found the wands quicker and more discriminating than a virtual keyboard, let alone trying to use a light pen in conjunction with a holographic display.

    “I think you understand me,” Huxford said, reinforcing Adele’s contempt for his intelligence. “I assure you, mistress, that everyone appreciates the risks you’ve taken and which all of us in Mistress Sand’s service take regularly. Nevertheless we give up hope of public honor when we accept the clandestine burdens of the Republic.”

    Adele read: The RCN Star is the highest gallantry award which can be granted to warrant officers and enlisted personnel of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. A five-pointed star of red enamel, it differs from the Cinnabar Star, granted to commissioned officers in similar circumstances, by hanging from a blue-red-blue ribbon and being mounted on a silver roundel rather than a gold roundel.

    Daniel wore the Cinnabar Star, so she knew what it looked like even without the image on her display. It was a deliberately obscure medal, no bigger than a man’s thumbnail.

    She still had no idea what Huxford was talking about. “I’d never heard of the RCN Star until you mentioned it,” Adele said. “Have I been recommended for one?”

    Huxford’s expression suggested that he was considering expressing disbelief at what she’d said. Adele smiled minusculely. It was just as well that her Whites didn’t have a pistol pocket; a pellet through the right eye, her usual target, would spoil features so handsome that they counted as a work of art.

    Perhaps her expression warned him, because Huxford lost a little of his self-assurance. He said, “Of course you wouldn’t have been so foolish as to have involved yourself in this, mistress. Navy House no longer has any mention of the matter.”

    He coughed delicately into the back of his hand. His manicure was as perfect as the rest of him. “You’ll please inform the uniformed friends who made this blunder that they shouldn’t repeat it. Though I’m sure they acted with the best motives.”

    Before answering, Adele shut down her data unit and slipped it into its pocket. She stood, facing Huxford.

    “Lieutenant Commander Huxford,” she said. Her voice had no more emotion than a sword-edge does. “Are you telling me that as my superior officer in the RCN? If so, I’ll request you to put it in writing. If–”

    “Mistress, I–” Huxford began.

    “Hear me out, sirrah!” Adele said. “If you’re a civilian speaking to Mundy of Chatsworth, I inform you that your tone has been remarked. You will apologize immediately, or I will treat it as an affair of honor.”

    Adele’s eyes filmed with memories. She’d only killed one man in a duel, a fellow student at the Academic Collections when she was sixteen. She’d killed many, many more in the course of her duties as an RCN officer, but the bulging-eyed boy with the hole in his forehead returned with a particular vividness more nights than he didn’t.

    “I meant no…,” Huxford said. His mouth must’ve gone dry, because he kept trying to lick his lips. “Mistress, that is milady–”

    “Did you not hear me, you miserable toad?” Adele said. She didn’t shout, but even in her own ears the words cut like live steam.

    “I apologize!” Huxford said, his posture rigid and his eyes on the blank consoles behind her. “Milady Mundy, I misspoke. My apologies if anything I said could be construed to be offensive.”

    “Then get out of here,” Adele said, flicking the back of her right hand toward the hatch. “Captain Leary is a gentleman, and I don’t want him embarrassed by the offal my other duties appear to have dragged aboard his ship.”



    Huxford turned and fumbled with the hatch controls for a moment before he managed to work them. The dogs disengaged and the hydraulic rams swung the armored panel outward. He stumbled through as soon as there was space for his slender, handsome figure.

    Adele wondered if Huxford knew her reputation as a pistol shot. He’d given no indication of knowing anything about her background save her RCN rank. It might well be that he was just afraid that Mistress Sand would hear that he’d offended one of her top agents. He could lose the position that gave him such status among the members of his class.

    Adele smiled again, tightly and without humor. As was generally true of her smiles.

    Rene Cazelet, wearing a commo helmet, looked through the hatch without entering the BDC. “Mistress?” he said quietly.

    Rene was the grandson of Mistress Boileau, the long-time Director of the Academic Collections on Blythe. Mistress Boileau had given Adele sanctuary when the Proscriptions slaughtered the members of the Mundy family on Cinnabar. In return, Adele had taken in her grandson when the Fifth Bureau, Guarantor Porra’s personal security service, executed his parents.

    “Yes, it’s all right,” said Adele, walking toward the hatchway. She felt tired and shaky from the adrenalin she hadn’t burned off. “I’ll go back to my quarters and change into civilian clothes. I have some business to transact before liftoff tomorrow.”

    “We thought of coming in, Tovera and I,” Cazelet said. His family had been in shipping; it was to the RCN’s benefit that Adele had asked Daniel to grant him a midshipman’s slot aboard the Milton. Though Rene lacked formal training, he had more practical experience in starships than most Academy graduates. “But we didn’t think you needed help.”

    “Not with that one,” said Tovera contemptuously. “Though would you like…?”

    She dipped one finger in the direction of her left side pocket; the bulge there was Adele’s pistol. Tovera knew that she’d never be human, but she could learn to act the way humans did. She’d attached herself to Adele Mundy as a model of behavior whom a conscienceless sociopath could emulate.

    “When I change,” said Adele. She felt worn. Perhaps it was age, or it could be the fact that she didn’t sleep well. She hadn’t slept well for almost twenty years.

    They started down the corridor. She and Cazelet were side by side, with Tovera a pace behind.

    Riggers stood in the rotunda for the stern dorsal airlocks. That was their action station, though they weren’t wearing hard suits while the Milton was in harbor.

    The watch commander was Barnes; Adele had first met him on Kostroma before she joined–well, became a part of–the RCN. He and his friend Dasi didn’t have the best minds in the RCN, but they knew their duties and were cheerfully willing to carry out any orders Captain Leary gave. They’d been promoted from leading riggers to bosun’s mates when they followed Daniel from the corvette Princess Cecile to a cruiser with five times the complement.

    “Good morning, ma’am,” Barnes said cheerfully. As Adele and her companions walked on, she heard Barnes telling his riggers, “That’s Lady Mundy in the Whites, you who don’t know it. If she tells you to jump, you jump. You don’t and I’ll beat you to an inch of your life if she hasn’t already shot you dead.”

    Adele didn’t look around. She used to wince when she heard her shipmates make that sort of comment, but now she took it as a mark of rough affection. She wouldn’t shoot a spacer for being slow and stupid, of course; or even for dumb insolence. Probably not for dumb insolence.

    “I was wondering, mistress…,” Tovera said. “Whether Mistress Sand knows about the business.”

    Adele thought for a moment. “I doubt it,” she said. “She’d have told me herself. But she’s not going to hear about it from me or from either of you. It was a reasonable decision.”

    A party of officers was coming the other way, returning to the BDC now that it was clear. “Good morning, Officer Mundy,” Lieutenant Commander Robinson said, dipping his head with a careful politeness which wasn’t the due of a signals officer.

    “Sir,” said Adele, nodding in reply. Salutes weren’t given aboard ships in commission, so she hadn’t embarrassed herself by forgetting to offer one to the First Lieutenant.

    She’d examined Dan Robinson’s record–of course–and found nothing of concern in it. She was glad that the man seemed to be smart enough to understand that things weren’t always done by the book when Daniel Leary was in command.

    “According to my research…,” Rene Cazelet said quietly when the BDC party had passed, “a warrant officer leading an assault similar to the one on Fort Donoumont would normally have been given an award. If there ever were an assault similar to that one, mistress. The RCN Star is almost required. Because there’s nothing higher.”

    Bullets through the doorway taking Woetjans in the chest. Stepping in, shooting the guard twice in the face. Into the inner office, the fat Alliance communications specialist reaching into her drawer and jerking as her face deformed above Adele’s sight picture….

    “To say so, Midshipman Cazelet,” Adele said, her voice trembling despite her efforts to control it, “would imply that a Mundy was intriguing for vulgar honors, to the discredit of her house. We will hear no more of it.”

    She and Tovera were billeted forward, adjacent to the captain’s space cabin and beyond that the bridge. As Adele entered the compartment, she turned to meet Cazelet’s eyes.

    “But thank you for your concern,” she said.

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