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The Shadow of Saganami: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Saturday, February 7, 2004 00:19 EST



    She took one last look around her dorm room.

    It was an absolute given that she’d forgotten something. She always did. The only question was how inconvenient/embarrassing it was going to be when she discovered what she’d forgotten this time.

    She snorted at the thought, grinning as she imagined how Berry would have teased her about it. Berry insisted that Helen was the only person in the galaxy who carried her own pocket universe around with her. That was the only way she could possibly lose some of the things she managed to… misplace. Of course, Berry was almost compulsively neat in her own life, although no one ever would have guessed it from how sloppily she usually dressed. But that was only the current teenage style, Helen supposed. And, her expression sobered, it wasn’t one Berry was going to be following any longer.

    She shrugged, shoulders hunching as if she could somehow shake away her worry over her adopted sister. More like an adopted daughter, really, in many ways. It was silly, and she knew it. Yet somehow she’d thought she would always be the protector of the brutalized waif she’d rescued from the warrens of Old Chicago, and now… she wouldn’t.

    But there were always things that wouldn’t happen, she told herself. Like her mother, who should have been at her graduation… and wouldn’t be. She felt a familiar stab of pain and loss, and dashed away a tear. Silly that. She hadn’t wept over her mother’s death in years. Not because she no longer cared, but because even the most bitter wounds healed, if you lived. They left scars, but they healed and you went on. It was just the Last View, she thought fiercely. Just watching, as so many classes had, as Edward Saganami and his entire crew died to save the merchantships under their protection… and remembering how Captain Helen Zilwicki had done the same.

    But that had been years ago, when Helen herself was only a child. And despite the deep, never to entirely fade anguish of it, her life truly had gone on, with other losses and other joys. If she’d lost her mother, she still had the bedrock love of her father, and now she had Berry, and Lars, and Catherine Montaigne. In a universe where it was the people you loved that really mattered, that was saying a lot. One hell of a lot, she thought fiercely.

    She drew a deep breath, shook her head, and decided there was no point standing here trying to guess what she’d forgotten, or lost, or misplaced. If she’d been able to figure it out, it wouldn’t have been forgotten -- or lost, or misplaced -- in the first place.

    She snapped down her locker’s lid, set the combination, and brought the built-in counter-grav on-line. The locker rose smoothly, floating at the end of its tether, and she settled her beret perfectly on her head, turned, and marched out of her dormitory room forever.



    “Helen! Hey -- Helen!”

    She looked over her shoulder as the familiar voice called out her name. A small, dark-haired, dark-eyed midshipman bounced through the crowd headed for the Alpha-Three Shuttle Concourse like a billiard ball with wicked side spin. Helen had never understood how Midshipman Kagiyama got away with that. Of course, he was over ten centimeters shorter than she was, and wiry. Helen’s physique might favor her dead mother’s side of the family more than it favored her massively built father, but she was still a considerably more… substantial proposition than Aikawa. His smaller size let him squeeze into openings she could never have fitted through, but it was more than that. Maybe it was just that he was brasher than she was. He certainly, she thought, watching him move past -- or possibly through -- a gesticulating herd of civilian businessmen, had much more energetic elbows than she did.

    He skidded to a stop beside her with a grin, and she shook her head as the daggered glares of the affronted businessmen unaccountably failed to reduce him to a fine heap of smoldering ashes.

    “I swear, Aikawa,” she said severely. “One of these days, somebody’s going to flatten you.”

    “Nah,” he disagreed, still grinning. “I’m too cute.”

    “Cute,” she informed him, “is one thing you definitely aren’t, Aikawa Kagiyama.”

    “Sure I am. You just don’t appreciate cute when you see it.”

    “Maybe not, but I’d advise you not to count on your OCTO to see it, either.”

    “Not at first, maybe. But I’m sure he’ll come to love me,” Aikawa said cheerfully.

    “Not once she gets to know you,” Helen said deflatingly.

    “You cut me to the quick.” Aikawa pressed a hand to his heart, and looked at her soulfully. She only snorted, and he shrugged. “Worth a try, anyway,” he said.

    “Yeah, you can be very trying,” she said.

    “Well, in that case, maybe I can hide from the OCTO behind you,” he said hopefully.

    “Hide behind me?” Helen arched an eyebrow.

    “Sure!” His eyes glinted with barely suppressed delight. “Unless… . Is it possible? Nah, couldn’t be! Don’t tell me you didn’t know we’re both assigned to Hexapuma!”

    “We are?” Helen blinked. “I thought you told me last night that you had orders to Intransigent.”

    “That was last night. Today is today.” Aikawa shrugged.

    “Why the change?” she asked.

    “Darned if I know,” he admitted. “Maybe somebody decided you needed a good example to live up to.” He elevated his nose with a superior expression.

    “Bullshit,” she said tartly. “If anybody decided anything, it was that you needed someone to step on you for your own good whenever that big head of yours gets ready to get you into trouble. Again.”

    “Gets me into trouble?” He shook his head at her. “And which one of us was it, again, that got us caught sneaking back onto campus at a quarter after Comp?”

    “Which was the only time I got us caught, Mr. I’ve-Got-the-Record-in-Black-Marks-Cornered. You, on the other hand -- “

    ”Dwelling on the past is the mark of a small mind,” he informed her.

    “Yeah, sure it is!” She snorted again, then tugged her locker back into motion, following the guide strip through the crowded concourse.

    Aikawa trotted along beside her, towing his own locker, and she did her best to look unmoved by his presence. Not that she was fooling anyone, especially him. He was probably her best friend in the entire universe, although neither of them was prepared to express it quite that way in so many words. There was nothing remotely sexual about their friendship. Not because either of them had anything against sexual relationships. It was just that neither was really the other’s type, and neither of them was prepared to risk their friendship by trying to turn it into anything else.

    “So who else caught Hexapuma?” he asked.

    “What?” She looked at him with mock amazement. “The Great Kagiyama, Master of Grapevines, doesn’t know who else is assigned to his ship?”

    “I know exactly who’s assigned to Intransigence. And until this morning, that was my ship. What I don’t know is who’s assigned to your ship.”

    “Well, I’m not entirely sure, myself,” Helen admitted. “I do know Ragnhild is, though. She’s ticketed for the same shuttle to Hephaestus as I am -- well, both of us, now, I guess. “

    ”Really? Outstanding!” Aikawa beamed. “I wonder what possessed them to put all three of the Three Musketeers on the same ship?”

    “An oversight, I’m sure,” Helen said dryly. “Of course, from the way you’re talking, they didn’t have all three of us assigned to Hexapuma initially, now did they?”

    “A point. Definitely a point. So Ragnhild is the only other one you know about?”

    “No, Leopold Stottmeister caught the morning shuttle up because he was going to have lunch with his parents at Dempsey’s before he reported aboard. I know about him and Ragnhild for certain. But there may be one or two more.”

    “Stottmeister….” Aikawa frowned. “The soccer jock?”

    “Yeah. I had a couple of classes with him, and he’s a pretty sharp cookie. In the Engineering track, though.”

    “Oh.” Aikawa looked up at her and their eyes met with the same expression. Both of them were in the Tactical track, traditionally the surest way to starship command. There was nothing wrong with someone who was more interested in hardware then maneuvers, of course. And God knew someone had to keep the works wound up and running. But neither of them could quite understand why someone would deliberately choose to be a glorified mechanic.

    “So,” Aikawa said after moment, his lips pursed, “with you and me, that makes four in Snotty Row? Two each of the male and female persuasions?”

    “Yeah,” Helen said again, but she was frowning slightly. “I think there’s one more, though. I didn’t recognize the name -- Rizzo or d’Arezzo.” She shrugged. “Something like that.”

    “Paulo d’Arezzo? Little guy, only four or five centimeters taller’n I am?”

    “Don’t know. Far as I know, I’ve never even met him.”

    “I think I have, once,” Aikawa said as the two of them turned down another hallway and the crowd got even denser, packing tighter together as the corridor narrowed. “If he’s who I think he is, he’s an electronics weenie. Pretty good one, too.” Helen looked a question at him, and shrugged. “I only met him in passing, but Jeff Timberlake worked a tactical problem in the final sims last term with d’Arezzo as his EW officer. Jeff said he was a damned good EWO.”

    “Sounds promising,” Helen said judiciously.

    “So that’s it? Five of us?”

    “Counting you,” she agreed as they squeezed their way along. “And as far as I know. But the assignment list wasn’t complete when I got my orders. They told me there’d be at least one more snotty, but they didn’t know who at that point. I guess that’s the slot they dropped you into. Speaking of which, how did you get your assignment changed?”

    “Hey, I was telling the truth for once!” he protested. “All I know is that Herschiser called me into her office this morning and told me my orders had been changed. I think they actually swapped me out with someone else who was assigned to Hexapuma.”

    “Oh?” She cocked her head at him. “And do you happen to have any idea who ‘someone else’ was? I hope it wasn’t Ragnhild!”

    “As a matter of fact, I do know. And it wasn’t Ragnhild,” Aikawa said, and she looked down at him sharply. His voice sounded much less amused than it had, and he shrugged as she frowned a silent question at him. “That’s why I was asking who else was assigned,” he said. “‘Cause I didn’t bounce anybody you just mentioned. Unless my usual sources fail me, the guy I did bounce was Bashanova.”

    “Bashanova?” Helen grimaced, as much in irritation at herself for repeating Aikawa like some witless parrot as anything else, but she wasn’t sure she cared for the implications of that name. Kenneth Bashanova wasn’t exactly beloved by either her or Aikawa. Or, for that matter, by at least ninety-nine percent of the people unfortunate enough to know him. Not that he cared particularly. The fourth son of an earl and the grandson of a duke had no need to concern himself with all of the little people clustered about his ankles.

    If Aikawa’s last-minute reassignment to HMS Hexapuma had saved her from making her midshipwoman’s cruise trapped aboard the same ship as Kenneth Bashanova, she was devoutly grateful. He was poisonous enough with anyone, but his sort of aristocrat despised Gryphon Highlanders -- like Helen -- as much as Highlanders despised them, and he’d gone out of his way to step on her… once.

    But whatever she thought of him, and however grateful she might be for his departure, Bashanova wasn’t the sort of person who was involved in random last-minute changes. If he’d been reassigned to another ship, it was because someone had pulled strings to make that happen. Which might explain why the midshipman assignments to Hexapuma had been “incomplete” last night. And it also posed an interesting question. Had he been shifted to Intransigence because of some special opportunity waiting for anyone fortunate enough to make her snotty cruise aboard her? Or had he been shifted to get him away from Hexapuma?

    “You haven’t heard anything about Hexapuma that I haven’t, have you?” she asked after a moment, and Aikawa chuckled.

    “Two great minds with but a single thought, I see.” He shook his head. “Nope. First thing to cross my mind was why the Noble Rodent had wanted out of Hexapuma, so I asked around.”


    “And I couldn’t find out anything to explain it. Heck, for that matter, I’d think even Bashanova would have wanted to stay put!”

    “Why?” Helen asked, and Aikawa.

    “Don’t you have any ‘informed sources’?”

    “Hey, I’m the one who knew who else was assigned aboard her, smartass! And just because the ‘faxes broke the story about my old man, don’t go around thinking I’m some kind of spook. One spy per family’s enough, thank you. Although, come to think of it, Lars is showing some signs of interest. Berry and I certainly never did, though!”

    “Then how come she wound up up to her… eyebrows in all that business on Erewhon and Congo?” he demanded.

    “Torch, not Congo,” she corrected. “Congo’s the system name; the planet is Torch. And I still haven’t figured out how all that worked. But I’ll tell you this much -- it wasn’t because Berry was playing spy!” Her snort of disdain was little short of magnificent. “Berry’s the sanest person in the entire Star Kingdom. Well, was, anyway. No way was she playing Junior Spook with Daddy -- as if he’d’ve let her, even if she’d wanted to! I’m sure one of them will get around to explaining that whole business to me one of these days, but I already know that much.”

    Actually, she knew a good bit more, but a lot of what she knew was most definitely not for public distribution.

    “None of which,” she went on more pointedly, “has any particular bearing on whether I have or haven’t cultivated the same band of sneaks and informants you have. So instead of looking exasperated, suppose you tell me what’s so special about Hexapuma.”

    “Nothing in particular, I suppose. Except, perhaps, for her captain, that is.” His tone was so elaborately casual that she considered throttling him, but then he laughed. “All right, I’ll come clean. It just happens, Helen, that Hexapuma’s newly assigned skipper is one Captain Aivars Terekhov. The Hyacinth Terekhov.”

    Helen’s eyes widened. She didn’t need Aikawa to tell her who Aivars Terekhov was. Everyone knew his record, just as everyone knew about the Manticore Cross he’d won for the Battle of Hyacinth.

    “Wait a minute.” She came to a complete stop, looking down at Aikawa with a perplexed expression. “Terekhov. Isn’t he some sort of distant relative of Bashanova’s?”

    “Yeah, but just some kind of twelfth cousin or something. Worth remembering if you want something from him, but otherwise -- ?” Aikawa shrugged and grimaced. He was from the capital planet of Manticore, not Gryphon, but his attitude towards the more self-important (and self-absorbed) members of the Manticoran aristocracy was as contemptuous as any Highlander’s.

    “But if they’re related, why in the world would Bashanova want to be reassigned out of Hexapuma? I’d think his family would want him to make his snotty cruise under a relative -- especially one in command of a brand, shiny new heavy cruiser. It’s the way their minds work.”

    “Unless there’s been some sort of family falling out,” Aikawa suggested. “If Terekhov’s feuding with the rest of the family -- and from what I know about the Noble Rodent’s immediate relatives, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if someone like Terekhov couldn’t stand them -- maybe Daddy Rat would feel better keeping his adorable little son out of the line of fire. Or,” he shrugged, “it may be that there’s something special about Intransigence that I haven’t been able to find out about -- yet. It’s just as possible the Noble Rodent’s trying to cop an inside advantage as that he’s trying to avoid some sort of problem, you know.”

    “I suppose,” she said doubtfully, tugging her locker back into motion as she started off down the shuttle pad guideline once more. And Aikawa did have a point, she conceded. But even as she told herself that, she knew her metaphysical ears were straining for the sound of a falling shoe.




    HMSS Hephaestus was always crowded, especially now. With the abrupt, disastrous resumption of the war with Haven, the largest single shipyard the Navy owned was running at well over a hundred percent of its designed capacity. The destruction of the Grendelsbane satellite yards -- and all the partially built warships in them -- only made Hephaestus’ frenetic pace even more frenzied.

    The concourses were an almost solid mass of humanity, with civilians employed by the various contractors piling in on top of the military personnel assigned to -- or simply passing through -- Hephaestus. Getting through the massive space station’s main arteries in anything remotely resembling a hurry was effectively impossible.

    Which, unfortunately, didn’t keep some people from trying to, anyway.

    One such person -- a large, well fed, and obviously (in his own eyes, at least) important civilian -- was forging through the press of human bodies like a superdreadnought through a squadron of old-style LACs. He might not have the superdreadnought’s impeller wedge, but he was using his beefy shoulders and elbows as a suitable substitute. Since he stood right at a hundred and eighty-eight centimeters in height, most of those who weren’t restrained from shoving back out of good manners were intimidated by his sheer size and obvious willingness to trample lesser mortals.

    Most of them, anyway.

    His bulldozer progress came to an abrupt halt as what he had confidently believed was an irresistible force ran into what was in fact an immovable object. In point of fact, it was a man in a blue and gray uniform he’d never seen before. A very tall man, the better part of twelve centimeters taller then he was. And a very broad man, who must have weighed at least two hundred kilos . . . none of it fat.

    The civilian hit that hundred and sixty-five-centimeter chest and bounced. Literally. He ended up flat on the seat of his trousers, the wind knocked out of him, staring up at the ogre he’d just flattened himself against like a bug on a windshield. Mild brown eyes regarded him with vague interest, as if wondering whether or not he might have been the source of the insignificant impact which had drawn their owner’s attention.

    The beefy young man had already opened his mouth, his face taut with fury, but it snapped shut even more abruptly than it had opened as he truly saw the man he’d run into for the first time. The uniformed giant gazed down at him, still mildly, then stepped carefully around him, beckoned politely for two other pedestrians to precede him, and continued on his own way without so much as a backward glance.

    The severely shaken civilian sat there for several more seconds before he pushed himself rather unsteadily to his feet and resumed his own progress . . . much more circumspectly. He kept an eye out for additional ogres, but he’d never even noticed the tallish, slender young junior-grade lieutenant following in the first ogre’s wake. Probably because, despite her own height, for a woman, her head didn’t even top her escort’s massive shoulder.

    “I saw that, Mateo,” Lieutenant Abigail Hearns said quietly, gallantly attempting to put a repressive edge into her voice.

    “Saw what, My Lady?” Mateo Gutierrez inquired innocently.

    “You deliberately changed course to plow that . . . person under,” she said severely.

    “How can you possibly suggest such a thing, My Lady?” Gutierrez shook his head sadly, a man clearly accustomed to being misunderstood and maligned.

    “Possibly because I know you,” Abigail replied tartly. He only shook his head again, adding a sigh for good measure, and she managed not to laugh out loud.

    It wasn’t the first time she’d noticed that Gutierrez seemed to take special offense when he encountered someone who used physical size or strength to intimidate others. Mateo Gutierrez didn’t care for bullies. Abigail had been a bit surprised by how little astonishment she’d felt on the day she realized that for all his toughness and amazing lethality, he was one of the gentlest people she knew. There was nothing “soft,” or wishy-washy about Gutierrez, but although he went to considerable lengths to hide it, he was the sort of man who routinely adopted homeless kittens, lost puppies . . . and steadholder’s daughters.

    Her temptation to laugh vanished as she remembered how she and Gutierrez had met. She hadn’t expected to survive the brutal, merciless encounter with the pirates raiding the planet of Refuge. And she wouldn’t have, without Gutierrez. She knew, with no sense of false modesty, that she’d held up her own end of that exhausting, endless running battle, but it hadn’t been her sort of fight. It had been Mateo Gutierrez’ kind of fight, and he’d waged it magnificently. That was what a professional noncom in the Royal Manticoran Marine Corps did.

    She understood that part. What she wasn’t quite clear on was precisely how a Manty Marine platoon sergeant transmuted into a lieutenant in the Denby Steadholder’s Guard. Oh, she was certain she detected her father’s inimitable touch, and as a Grayson steadholder, Lord Denby clearly had the clout to “convince” the Royal Manticoran Marines to allow one of their sergeants to cross-transfer to the Denby Guard. What she couldn’t figure out was how her father had convinced Gutierrez to accept the transfer in the first place.

    At least she knew why he’d done it, if not how, and she felt a fresh spurt of affectionate irritation at the thought. As a mere daughter, she’d had no standing in the succession to Denby Steading when she initially left home to become the first Grayson midshipwoman ever to attend Saganami Island. As such, she’d managed to make the trip without the personal armsman which Grayson law required accompany any steadholder’s heir or potential heir.

    But that had been before the Conclave of Steadholders awakened to the full implications of Benjamin Mayhew’s alterations to Grayson’s laws of inheritance. Daughters were no longer precluded from inheriting steadholderships, so the Conclave had determined that they should no longer be excused from the consequences of standing in the succession.

    Abigail had been furious when her father informed her that henceforth she must be accompanied on any deployment by her personal armsman. At least she didn’t have to put up with the complete security team which accompanied the older of her two brothers wherever he went, but surely a serving naval officer didn’t need a personal bodyguard! But Lord Denby had been inflexible. As he’d pointed out to her, the law was clear. And when she’d tried to continue the argument, he’d made two other points. First, that Lady Harrington, who was certainly a “serving officer” by anyone’s definition, had accepted that she had to be accompanied at all times by her personal armsmen. If she could, then so could Abigail. And, second, that since the law was clear, her only real choices were whether she would obey it or whether the Grayson Space Navy would withdraw her commission.

    He’d meant it. However proud he might have been of her, however completely he’d accepted her choice of a career, he’d meant it. And it hadn’t even been a simple matter of a father’s intransigence. There were all too many prominent Graysons who remained horrified by the very notion of Grayson-born women in uniform. If she chose to reject the law’s requirements, those same horrified men would demand that the Navy beach her. And the Navy, whether it liked it or not, would have no choice but to comply.

    And so she’d accepted that she had no choice, and, somehow, Lord Denby had convinced Mateo Gutierrez to become his daughter’s armsman. He’d found her the biggest, toughest, most dangerous guard dog he could lay his hands on, and he’d traded unscrupulously on the bonds between her and Gutierrez to convince her to accept him. She’d continued her protests long enough to be certain honor was satisfied, but both of them knew the truth. If she had to put up with a bodyguard at all, there was no one in the entire universe she would have trusted more than Mateo Gutierrez.

    Of course, the fact that she’d just been reassigned to a Manticoran warship rather than to a Grayson vessel did tend to complicate things a bit, and she wondered why she had been. High Admiral Matthews had told her it was because they wanted her to gain all the experience -- and seniority -- she could in a navy which was used to female officers before she took up her duties aboard a Grayson vessel. And she believed him -- mostly. But there was that nagging edge of doubt . . .

    “This way, My Lady,” Gutierrez said, and Abigail shook herself as she realized she’d been wool gathering while she walked along. She’d completely failed to notice when their guide line turned down a side passage towards a bank of lifts.

    “I knew that,” she said, smiling sideways up at her towering armsman.

    “Of course you did, My Lady,” he said soothingly.

    “Well, I did!” she insisted. He only grinned, and she shook her head. “And that’s another thing, Mateo. We’re assigned to a Manticoran cruiser, not a Grayson ship. And I’m only a very junior tactical officer aboard her. I think it might not to be a bad idea to forget about the ‘My Ladies’ for a while.”

    “It’s taken me months to get used to using them in the first place,” he rumbled in exactly the sort of voice one might have expected out of that huge, resonant chest.

    “Marines are adaptable,” she replied. “They improvise and overcome when faced with unexpected obstacles. Just treat it like something minor -- like storming a dug-in ceramacrete bunker armed with nothing but a butter knife clenched between your manly teeth -- and I’m sure a tough, experienced Marine like you can pull it off.”

    “Hah! What kind of wuss Marine needs a butter knife to take one miserable bunker?” Gutierrez demanded with a resonant chuckle. “That’s why God gave us teeth and fingernails!”

    “Exactly.” Abigail smiled up at him again, but she also shook her head. “Seriously, Mateo,” she continued. “I know Daddy and Colonel Bottoms insisted on that whole ‘My Lady’ thing. And it probably makes sense, on Grayson, or in the GSN. But we’re going to have enough trouble with people who think it’s silly neobarb foolishness to assign a bodyguard to any officer as junior as I am. Let’s not rub any noses in anything we don’t have to rub them in.”

    “You’ve got a point, Ma’am,” he agreed after a moment. They reached the lift, and he pressed the call button, then stood waiting beside her. Even here, his eyes flitted endlessly about, sweeping their surroundings in a constant cycle. He might have been trained originally as a Marine, not an armsman, but he’d taken to his new duties like a natural.

    “Thank you,” she said. “And while we’re on the subject of not rubbing any noses -- or putting any of them out of joint -- did you and Commander FitzGerald come to an understanding?”

    “Yes, Ma’am, we did. Although, truth to tell, it was Captain Kaczmarczyk I really needed to talk to. I told you it would be.”

    “And I believed you. All I said was that you needed to touch base with the XO before you talked to the detachment commander.”

    “You were right,” he conceded. “Probably.” He couldn’t quite resist adding the qualifier, and she shook her head with a chuckle.

    “You, Mateo Gutierrez,” she said as the lift doors sighed open, “need a good, swift kick in the seat of the pants. And if I could get my foot that high without getting a nosebleed, I’d give it to you, too.”

    “Such constant threats of violence,” he said mournfully, even as his eyes swept the interior of the lift car. “It’s a good thing I know you don’t mean it, Ma’am. The only thing that keeps me from breaking out in a cold sweat when you threaten me that way.”

    “Sure it is,” she said, rolling her eyes as he waved her forward and she stepped past him into the lift. He followed her, taking his position between her and the doors and actually making it look casual. Then he punched the button to close the doors.

    “Destination?” a computer-generated voice asked pleasantly.

    “HMS Hexapuma,” Gutierrez told it.

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