Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

The Shadow of Saganami: Chapter Thirty Four

       Last updated: Saturday, July 31, 2004 02:11 EDT



    “Welcome to Rembrandt, Captain Terekhov!”

    The big, burly captain in the uniform of the Rembrandt System Navy held out his hand and shook Terekhov’s firmly. More than firmly, really; whether he meant to be or not, he was clearly a knuckle crusher.

    “I’m Captain Groenhuijen, Admiral Van Der Wildt’s chief of staff. On her behalf, and that of the entire Navy, I officially welcome you to the Rembrandt System.”

    “Thank you, Sir,” Aivars Terekhov replied, hoping he would get his hand back without permanent damage. Arjan Groenhuijen was a good eight centimeters shorter than he was, but the Rembrandter was thick chested and broad shouldered, with long, powerful arms and sinewy hands. Terekhov suspected that he was one of those physical fitness types who spent most of his free hours in the weight room.

    The dark-haired Rembrandter finally released his hand, and beamed at him.

    “It’s a genuine pleasure to see you here, Captain Terekhov. You aren’t the first RMN vessel we’ve seen, of course. But you are the most modern and most powerful. I’m impressed, Captain. Most impressed.”

    “Time permitting, Sir,” Terekhov said, resisting a temptation to wiggle his fingers to make sure all of them were still in working order, “I’d be honored to give you a tour. I’m afraid, however, if I’ve read the urgency attached to my instructions properly, that this will be a very brief visit.”

    “True, I’m afraid.” Groenhuijens expression sobered. “President Tinkhof has stressed the importance of assisting any Manticoran vessel, especially any Queen’s ship, visiting our space. According to the correspondence which has passed back and forth between her office, Admiral Van Der Wildt’s office, and Mr. Van Dort, in this instance the greatest assistance we can provide will be to get you turned around and on your way quickly. Do you have any pressing logistics requirements?”

    “No, Sir. Thank you. We’re still in remarkably good shape on the logistics side.” Terekhov didn’t mention the missiles he’d expended in Nuncio. Those expenditures couldn’t have been made good out of Rembrandt stocks. Besides, his next stop was Spindle itself, where the station’s service squadron would be able to supply any of his needs.

    “Excellent!” Groenhuijen rubbed his hands together, once again beaming. “In that case, I’m to inform you that Mr. Van Dort will, with your permission, come aboard at zero-seven-thirty hours local. Admiral Van Der Wildt’s arranged his transportation to your vessel.”

    “That will be quite convenient, Sir. One point, however. My orders are to transport Mr. Van Dort to Spindle as expeditiously as possible. No mention was made of any staff or assistants. We are, of course, prepared to carry any such staff, but my XO and Logistics Officer would like to know if we’re expecting any additional passengers, so that they can make arrangements for their accommodations and comfort.”

    “That’s very kind of you, Captain. However, Mr. Van Dort will be traveling by himself. As is his customary practice.”

    Something about the Rembrandter’s tone piqued Terekhov’s curiosity, and he looked more closely at the other man.

    “I see. May I ask if you’re aware of any special needs Mr. Van Dort might have?”

    For a moment, it seemed Groenhuijen wasn’t going to answer. Then the RSN captain gave a smile which contained very little humor.

    “Mr. Van Dort routinely travels by himself, Captain. It is his way, you understand.” He waited until Terekhov had nodded. “Nonetheless, there are those here in Rembrandt who . . . worry about him. He is not, perhaps, universally beloved throughout the Cluster, or even here on Rembrandt these days. And he’s driving himself hard -- very hard -- to make the annexation a success. It isn’t really my place to say this, but there are those of us who regard him as a national treasure, a man upon whom a great many things depend, and for whom we have enormous respect. It would please me -- and Admiral Van Der Wildt -- to think he had someone specifically . . . looking after his needs. Whether he’s prepared to take someone along for that purpose or not.”

    Terekhov looked into Groenhuijen’s eyes and was startled by what he saw there. The bluff, hand-crushing naval officer’s admiration and concern for Bernardus Van Dort were obvious. And despite his rank, the Rembrandter also looked like a young boy, running around behind the back of a beloved uncle to be sure he was properly looked after.

    “I see, Sir,”Terekhov said. “We’ll be expecting him. And I promise we’ll take good care of him.”



    “Midshipwoman Pavletic reports to the Executive Officer as directed, Sir!” Ragnhild Pavletic said, bracing to attention before Ansten FitzGerald’s desk.

    “Midshipwoman Zilwicki reports to the Executive Officer as directed, Sir!” Helen Zilwicki echoed, coming to attention beside her.

    “Stand easy,” FitzGerald said gravely, and hid a smile as both snotties obeyed. Their expressions were those of two young women whose consciences were spic and span, without trace of sin. But something about their body language, a slight tightness to the shoulders, perhaps, suggested both of them were earnestly searching their memories for some infraction sufficiently serious to have landed them in front of the XO himself.

    “First,” he continued, in that same grave tone, “neither of you is in trouble.” Without moving a muscle, they managed to radiate enormous relief. “Second, I have an additional duty looking for someone to be assigned to. At the moment, it looks like one of you is going to be the lucky recipient. However, I wanted to discuss it with both of you in order to determine which is best suited to it.”

    The middies glanced at one another from the corners of their eyes, then looked attentively at their superior.

    “In about two hours,” FitzGerald said, “Mr. Bernardus Van Dort will be coming aboard the Nasty Kitty. Excuse me,” he grinned wickedly at their expressions, especially Ragnhild’s, “I mean, of course, aboard Hexapuma,” he corrected himself. Then his tone sobered. “I presume both of you know who he is?”

    “Ah, we saw him on Flax, at the banquet, Sir,” Helen said. “I believe we were told he was an important commercial representative from Rembrandt, but no one explained anything more than that to us.”

    “I did hear, Sir,” Ragnhild added, “that he was -- or had been -- a very senior board member of the Rembrandt Trade Union.” FitzGerald quirked an eyebrow at her, and she smiled slightly. “My family’s deeply involved in the Star Kingdom’s merchant marine, Sir. I guess some of the family instincts rubbed off on me. I tend to pick up odd bits and pieces of information -- the kind a merchant spacer might find useful.”

    “I see. As a matter of fact, Ms. Pavletic, I was aware of your family background. It’s one of the reasons I’m considering you for this assignment.”

    FitzGerald let both of them digest that for a few seconds, then brought his chair upright behind his desk.

    “What both of you just said about Mr. Van Dort is perfectly accurate, as far as it goes. However, it would be more accurate to say he is the RTU. He was its founder, and he’s still its largest stockholder. For most of the last sixty T-years, he’s been Chairman of the Board of a four-system ‘trade association’ which is effectively a star nation in its own right. Mr. Van Dort resigned his position as Chairman specifically to organize the annexation vote. That, too, could be said to be his personal brainchild, although he isn’t and never has been a politician as we would understand the term in the Star Kingdom. In short, although he’s technically only one more private citizen here in the Cluster, he’s an extremely influential and important private citizen.”

    He paused to let them think over what he’d said, then continued.

    “The reason I’m telling you all this is that we’ve been instructed by Admiral Khumalo, at Baroness Medusa’s request, to transport Mr. Van Dort to Spindle. I’m not prepared at this time to go into the exact reasons the Provisional Governor made that request. It’s probable, however, that we’ll be moving on from Spindle, and that Mr. Van Dort will accompany us. I’m sure both of you are intelligent enough to deduce that in such a circumstance we would be functioning in a support capacity for any mission Mr. Van Dort might undertake at the Baroness’ request. We’ve just been informed, however, that it’s Mr. Van Dort’s practice to travel by himself, without staff. Apparently, to be blunt about it, this is a personal foible of his, almost an affectation. I suppose he must have a staff here in Rembrandt, and possibly one already in place in Spindle, but he’ll have no such staff support aboard Hexapuma, unless he drafts some of the people we assume he has in Spindle for that purpose after our arrival.

    “In the meantime, however, Captain Terekhov has decided it would be wise to assign him a personal aide. It’s entirely possible such an assignment would never amount to being more than a personal go-for. It’s also possible, however, that the individual assigned to him would find him or herself involved in significantly more important duties and responsibilities. Since this insistence of his on traveling without an entire stable of assistants seems to be an important part of his self-image, the Captain doesn’t wish to make it obvious that he’s trying to circumvent it. Accordingly, he’s decided to assign a midshipman to the task. Someone junior enough to avoid triggering any automatic rejection of an official aide, but with sufficient personal background knowledge and experience to serve that function, anyway. Which is what brings me to the two of you.”

    He paused again, this time obviously waiting for them to say something. Helen glanced and Ragnhild, then looked back at the Exec.

    “May I ask why it does, Sir?” she asked.

    “You may. Ms. Pavletic and Mr. Sottmeister are the only two of our midshipmen with connections to our own merchant marine. Of the two, Ms. Pavletic’s family’s been more deeply involved for a longer time. Specifically, Pavletic, Tilliotson, & Ellett is one of the Star Kingdom’s oldest shipping lines. This, I believe, would probably put her in the best position of any of our middies to ‘talk shop’ with Mr. Van Dort. Although I’m sure the Captain would prefer not to have to find a replacement pilot for Hotel-Papa-One, I’m afraid Mr. Van Dort takes precedence even over that.

    “You, on the other hand, Ms. Zilwicki, are effectively the adopted daughter of Catherine Montaigne. You have personal, first-hand experience of how someone operating at the highest level of the Star Kingdom’s politics goes about her business. Then there’s your relationship to Queen Berry. And the fact that your father is one of the Star Kingdom’s most effective, ah . . . intelligence operatives. Whereas Ms. Pavletic would be in a position to address the business side of Mr. Van Dort’s responsibilities and achievements, you’d be in a better position to appreciate any political requirements he might have.”

    “Sir, PT&E may be one of the older lines, but we’re not exactly crowding the Hauptman Cartel. We’re not that big an outfit,” Ragnhild protested.

    “And, Sir, with all due respect, while I may have seen Cathy -- I mean, Ms. Montaigne -- in action, I’ve never been especially interested in politics. Certainly not on the level Mr. Van Dort seems to be.”

    “Noted, and noted. Nonetheless, however inadequate you may feel your qualifications are, they are superior in this regard to those of your fellow snotties. So, one of you is going to draw the assignment. What we’re here to determine is which one it will be.”

    FitzGerald smiled at their expressions, then pointed at the chairs behind them.

    “Sit,” he said, and they sat.

    “Good.” He smiled againk. “The interview process will now begin.”




    “Welcome aboard Hexapuma, Mr. Van Dort,” Captain Terekhov said, standing just inside the boarding tube as his guest came aboard from the Rembrandt Navy shuttle.

    “Thank you.” The tall, fair-haired Rembrandter reached out to shake the captain’s hand. Unlike Captain Groenhuijen, he showed no particular inclination to mangle the digits in his grasp.

    “I’ve been instructed by Baroness Medusa to personally thank you for your willingness to return to Spindle with us,” Terekhov continued.

    “That’s very kind of her, but no thanks are necessary. I’m not certain I can provide the assistance she needs, but anything I can do, I certainly will.”

    “No one could possibly ask more than that. May I introduce Commander FitzGerald, my Executive Officer?”

    “Commander,” Van Dort acknowledged, shaking the XO’s hand.

    “And this is Commander Lewis, my Engineer.”

    “Commander Lewis.” Van Dort smiled as the engineering officer stepped forward. “I well recall my own days as a merchant spacer. Which means I know who really keeps any ship running.”

    “I see you’re as perceptive as everyone said you were, Sir,” Ginger Lewis said with a smile of her own, and he chuckled.

    “And this,” the captain continued, “is Midshipwoman Zilwicki.”

    Van Dort turned towards Helen with a smile, then paused. It was a tiny thing, no more than a momentary hesitation, but she saw something flicker in his eyes.

    “Midshipwoman,” he murmured after a moment, and offered her his hand in turn.

    “Mr. Van Dort. This is an honor, Sir.”

    The Rembrandter made a tiny, graceful brushing away gesture with his free hand, his eyes still on her face, and Terekhov smiled.

    “With your permission, Sir, I’ve taken the liberty of assigning Ms. Zilwicki to get you settled in aboard Hexapuma and to serve as my personal liaison with you. I believe you’ll find she has considerably more experience with the sorts of responsibilities facing you than you might expect from someone of her age and lack of seniority.”

    Van Dort had opened his mouth, as if to politely reject the offer, but he closed it again at Terekhov’s final sentence. Instead of speaking, he simply gazed at Helen for another second or to, and she felt uncomfortably as if he’d just put her on some sort of invisible scale that weighed her abilities with meticulous precision. Or as if he knew something about her she didn’t know herself. Which was ridiculous.

    “That’s very considerate of you, Captain,” he said finally. “I trust Ms. Zilwicki won’t find my requirements too onerous.”

    “Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Sir,” Terekhov murmured with a wicked little smile. “After all, Ms. Zilwicki’s on her snotty cruise. She’s supposed to find her duties onerous.”



    “So what’s he like?” Leo Stottmeister demanded.

    “Van Dort?” Helen looked up from the maintenance manual on her reader. She, Leo, Aikawa, and Paulo d’Arezzo were off duty, and she’d been boning up on maintenance procedures for the broadside graser mounts. Abigail Hearns intended to conduct a verbal exam on the subject the next day, and Helen believed in being prepared.

    “No, the Andermani Emperor,” Leo said, rolling his eyes in exasperation. “Of course Van Dort!”

    “He’s a nice enough guy. For an old geezer.” Helen shrugged.

    “Scuttlebutt says he’s a real hard-ass political type. Some kind of hired gun the Provisional Governor is calling in.”

    “Then scuttlebutt has its head up its ass,” Helen replied tartly.

    “Hey! I’m just saying what I’ve heard,” Leo said a touch defensively. “If I’m wrong, straighten me out, don’t bite my head off!”

    Helen ran her hands through her hair with a grimace.

    “I really do have to study this maintenance manual.”

    “Bull,” Leo shot back. “You know that stuff forward and backward -- you’ve aced every proficiency exam we’ve had!”

    “He’s got a point, Helen,” Aikawa said with a grin. “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s one thing. But you really need to come up with a better excuse than that.”

    “All right. All right!” She grinned back, acknowledging defeat. “But you guys have to understand, I’ve spent probably less than two hours with him so far. It’sn’t like I can tell you what he’s thinking or anything like that. Or, for that matter, like I would if I could.”

    She accompanied the last sentence with a stern gaze, and her audience nodded in acknowledgment.

    “Having said that, I think he really is a nice guy. He’s worried, I can tell you that much, although I don’t know how much he knows about what the Baroness has in mind. He seems to be as smart as they come, too. And he spends most of his time buried in briefing papers and personal correspondence from what looks like people all over the Cluster. I guess the reason I kind of snapped at you, Leo, is that the one thing he isn’t is a ‘hired gun.’ This is a very serious player -- maybe even more serious, in some ways, than Cathy Montaigne -- and this entire annexation idea was pretty much his brainstorm. I don’t know what Baroness Medusa’s thinking, but she’s just latched onto the man who probably has the most political horsepower of anybody in the entire Cluster. When you combine that with the fact that she had Hexapuma divert to Rembrandt specifically to pick him up instead of just sending a dispatch boat for him, I’d say she’s probably got him -- and us -- earmarked for something pretty damned significant, wouldn’t you?”



    “I wonder if Terekhov’s picked up Van Dort yet?” Rear Admiral Khumalo murmured.

    “I beg your pardon, Sir? Were you speaking to me?”

    “What?” Khumalo shook himself and straightened in his chair. “Sorry, Loretta. I suppose I was actually just thinking out loud. I was wondering if Hexapuma’s reached Rembrandt yet.”

    “She probably has,” Captain Shoupe said after a quick, reflexive glance at the date/time display on the briefing room bulkhead. The rear admiral’s daily staff conference had just broken up, and abandoned coffee and teacups stood forlornly beside mostly empty carafes.

    “I certainly hope so,” Khumalo said, and the chief of staff looked quickly back at him. His broad face looked weary, far more worried than he’d permitted it to look during the staff meeting.

    “If she hasn’t already, I’m sure she will in the next day or so, Sir,” she said encouragingly.

    “The sooner the better,” Khumalo said. “I’m not sure I’m prepared to admit it to Mr. O’Shaughnessy, but the situation on Montana’s threatening to get badly out of hand. I’m still more than a little uneasy about the entire notion of meddling in their internal political quarrels, but given this latest news… .” He shook his head. “If Van Dort -- and Terekhov, I suppose -- really can do anything about it, then the sooner we get them there, the better.”

    Shoupe kept her expression carefully neutral, but she was a little taken aback by Khumalo’s attitude. Her superior must be even more concerned about the Montana Independence Movement than she’d thought to have changed his position that radically.

    “May I ask if the Provisional Governor’s firmly decided Montana has priority over Split, Sir?” she asked respectfully.

    “You may, and I don’t know,” Khumalo replied with a half-smile, half-grimace. “All I can say is that with it looking more and more as if the Kornatians really did nail Nordbrandt, Montana’s relative priority’s risen pretty steeply. Especially after Westman’s last little trick!”

    Shoupe nodded. News of the MIM’s destruction of the Montana System Bank’s headquarters had reached Spindle the day before.

    Why, oh why, she wondered, couldn’t our problem-child star systems be closer to each other. Or to us, for that matter.

    Split lay just over 60.6 LY from Spindle. Montana was 82.5 LY from Spindle, and over a hundred and twenty from Split. Even a warship like Hexapuma would require more than eight days to make the trip from Spindle to Split. Montana was the next best thing to twelve days away, and the trip from Montana to Split would require better than seventeen days. All of which made coordination between Spindle and what looked like being the Cluster’s two true flashpoints a genuine, unmitigated pain in the ass. Just getting information back and forth, even using the speedy dispatch boats which routinely traveled in the riskier Theta Bands of hyper-space, took literally weeks. No matter what Rear Admiral Khumalo or Baroness Medusa decided to do, they could absolutely count on the fact that the information on which their decision was based was out of date.

    “I suppose we should concentrate on being glad Nordbrandt and the FAK seem to be out of business, Sir,” she suggested after a moment. “That doesn’t make dealing with Mr. Westman any more attractive, but at least it’s an improvement over having to deal with both at once!”

    “A point, Loretta,” Khumalo agreed with a tired smile. “Definitely a point.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image