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The Way to Glory: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Saturday, February 12, 2005 16:47 EST



Harbor Three on Cinnabar

    "When I looked at an image . . ." Adele said, saying the thing that was in her mind. She knew from long experience that this often disturbed those who heard her, but this was Daniel; and anyway, she was too old to change her ways now. "I thought the Hermes looked strange because it wasn't finished. It's finished now, though, isn't it? The outside, I mean."

    Yard workmen in forklifts were hauling pallets of stores from the three-car monorail train halted on the siding beside the Hermes. All her hatches were open, and the sound of saws screaming on metal bubbled through them like particularly shrill bosun's whistles. Though the hull was complete, finish work on the vessel was continuing.

    Adele judged the Hermes was about three hundred feet long. A third of the length was in the bullet-shaped bow section, followed by a small-dimension shaft some hundred and fifty feet long which connected the bow to the spherical stern element.

    The tender floated on full-length outrigger pontoons in a construction slip. Her plasma thrusters were mounted on the sides of the bow and stern sections where they were clear of the water. The High Drive motors which combined matter and anti-matter were on the pontoons. The High Drive could only be used in vacuum, so it didn't matter that the motors were under water after the Hermes landed.

    "Like a fish after it's been filleted," Hogg said somberly. "A real abortion, ain't it, young master?"

    Harbor Three was an enormous artificial swamp laid out in groups of slips, each around a central lagoon from which starships could land and lift off in relative isolation. A vessel was running up its plasma thrusters in alternate pairs, burning in new nozzles. The thrusters echoed as they blasted ions into the water on which the ship floated. The roar could've come from almost anywhere in the reservation; the plume of steam charged with rainbow plasma lifted like a flag, however, not far from the tram platform where Adele with Daniel and their two servants viewed the Hermes.

    "An anti-pirate tender's a very specialized tool, Hogg," Daniel said. Adele thought he sounded amused rather than upset, but she also realized that she and Hogg were being much more negative about the Hermes than would've been acceptable if Daniel were her commander. "Think of it as the equivalent of a gut-hook skinning knife, useful if not attractive. And of course with her cutters nested against the central spine, she'll look more like how one expects to see a ship."

    Daniel grimaced, suggesting to Adele that perhaps he agreed more with her and Hogg than he was willing to admit. "I see some officers on the slip," he said. "If Commander Slidell's among them, I'll present my orders."

    He tapped the tied and wax-sealed scroll he'd retrieved from Hogg when they got off the tram at Slip 17Y. "And this bloody thing."

    They started toward the slip, Daniel a half-step ahead of Adele. Both wore Grays, though the personnel on the slip were in utilities. Adele wondered how Daniel was sure they were officers, then noticed that he'd slipped his RCN goggles down over his eyes for a quick look.

    The goggles had a range of viewing modes, including magnification as high as x128; with the internal stabilizer locked, that would be sufficient to read subdued collar insignia a hundred yards distant. It didn't surprise her to learn that Daniel had done so.

    Hogg and Tovera followed obsequiously. Daniel as First Lieutenant rated a servant; a communications officer ordinarily would not, but Adele's orders gave her authority to appoint an unpaid civilian assistant for whom the RCN would provide rations.

    When Daniel was commanding the Princess Cecile, the question of Tovera's position never arose. Under Commander Slidell it might very well—and Mistress Sand, as thorough in her way as Adele was in very different fashions, had taken care of the problem before it arose.

    "The aft portion is almost entirely water tanks," Daniel explained, gesturing to the vessel as they approached. "Crew quarters are in the bow, and storage apart from the water—the reaction mass—is in the bow also. You could think of the bow as a ship by itself with the stern merely an appendage, if you liked."

    "And the middle?" Adele asked, more from politeness than curiosity. If she'd simply wanted to know what the bar of the huge dumbbell held, she'd have brought out her personal data unit and squatted down on the pavement with it.

    "The spine is just passages, airlocks, and the piping that feeds air and reaction mass to the cutters," Daniel said. "So long as the cutters're attached, they're completely supplied from the tender. That way when they separate, their tanks are topped off."

    "She's got missiles though, right?" Hogg asked from behind them. "I mean, we're not going out on an unarmed ship, are we?"

    "Well," said Daniel, "not unarmed, Hogg, but the tender's function is to support its cutters. They're the Hermes' real armament. And they don't carry missiles, no, because the pirate craft they're designed to fight aren't large enough to justify expending a missile. Instead they've got sheaves of chemically fueled rockets to destroy masts and rigging at short range. Much of their duty—our duty now—will be to retake merchantmen the pirates have captured. Often the original crew will be imprisoned on board."

    "What if we run up against a real warship like we've done before in the Sissie?" said Hogg. "Then we saw 'em off because we had missiles . . . which this sway-backed pig don't. Do we get swallowed up whole?"

    "Afraid to die, Hogg?" Tovera said. She sounded curious.

    "I don't much fancy giving some Alliance bastards target practice without us shooting back, is all," Hogg muttered. Then he added in a tone of transparent dishonesty, "But I guess the RCN knows what it's doing."

    An empty lowboy stood on the quay; the cab was tilted forward to expose the engine, but nobody was working on it at the moment. Adele made a slight gesture to catch Daniel's eye, then nodded toward the vehicle. He flashed a smile of agreement and strode toward the three officers conferring nearer the bow of the vessel. The youngest, a woman, was projecting holographic builder's drawings from a unit in one hand and touching them with the laser pointer in the other.

    Adele set her data unit on the lowboy as an improvised desk. Hogg and Tovera halted with her, a polite distance from the commissioned officers. Adele noticed that Tovera wore an earphone and, though her eyes were ostensibly on the horizon, she kept one end of her attaché case pointed toward the officers. It seemed very probable that Tovera was eavesdropping on the conversation through a parabolic microphone—but that was Tovera's business.

    For her own part, Adele viewed the plans of the tender. As First Lieutenant, Daniel's station would be in the Battle Direction Center—basically a duplicate bridge from which the ship could be sailed and fought in the event the captain and the remainder of the bridge crew became casualties.

    The communications officer would normally be stationed on the bridge. Under the present circumstances, Adele believed the specialist equipment she brought as an agent of Mistress Sand would be better kept under Daniel's authority. She knew her espionage duties made Daniel uncomfortable, but he could be trusted not to interfere or—what might actually be worse—show too much curiosity in what she was doing and how.

    The question of where the Hermes' BDC was hadn't occurred to Adele until she actually saw the vessel. Having done so, a few twitches of her wands highlighted a chamber in the core of the spherical stern section. It was completely surrounded by tanks of reaction mass the way the pituitary gland is buried in brain tissue. That was probably as safe as any location on a starship could be, but seeing it gave Adele a feeling of disquiet.

    "They're inspectors from the Bureau of Material, making a hand-over inspection of the vessel because it's newly built," Tovera said in an undertone. She flicked her eyes sidelong to indicate the three strangers with Daniel. "Slidell and Lieutenant Ganse aren't aboard, though they're expected momentarily."

    Daniel was having an animated conversation, gesturing with the rolled document he carried. He had more technical competence and interest than most spacefaring officers because much of his upbringing had been in his uncle's shipyard—now his own shipyard. "It seems hard on the master, to give up a pretty little thing like the Sissie and be put aboard a wallowing pig like this one—and not as captain, neither," Hogg said in an undertone. "Though I hear there's money to be made in the Gold Dust Cluster. Prize money, and good money besides on private cargoes—and not just the smuggled ones."

    But smuggled cargoes too, Adele amended, since it was Hogg speaking. Well, nobody'd appointed Adele Mundy a Commissioner of Revenue.

    "Lest you be concerned that the Hermes is clumsy compared to the Princess Cecile, Hogg . . ." Adele said, reading operational histories of anti-pirate vessels from her data unit as she waited for Daniel to take them aboard. "It appears that the cutters operate individually and are crewed by personnel from the tender. It appears to be quite normal for a tender's First Lieutenant to take charge of a cutter, and they're said to be quite handy little vessels."

    "Handy little ships that fight at knife range," Tovera said. She giggled, a sound with as little humor as a crocodile's smile.

    A tram clinked to a stop on the platform. Two officers in Dress Whites stepped off and started toward the Hermes.

    "Guess that's Slidell," said Hogg. "Can't say I like the look of him any better'n I do the pig of a ship he captains."

    Adele eyed the oncoming officers. The older man wearing the open circle insignia of a commander had an ascetic face, but it was now distorted by a scowl as he glared at Daniel Leary.

    I tend to agree with Hogg, Adele thought. The way her mind had turned made her suddenly aware of the pistol in her jacket pocket.

    The notion was completely inappropriate, but it was oddly comforting. Adele smiled, and she was aware that Hogg and Tovera were smiling also.



    "There's Slidell and Ganse coming now," said Lieutenant Commander Avars, head of the yard's inspection team. "It's been a pleasure talking with you, Leary."

    "And do keep an eye on the High Drive motors, won't you?" Lieutenant Episcopo added as she stowed her projection unit back in its belt pouch. "I'm not saying anything against Apogee Engineering, but any time a start-up company underbids the established firms, well . . . there's testing and believe me we tested; but you're likely to be twenty days out from Cinnabar if anything goes wrong."

    Daniel nodded to his new acquaintances as he turned and composed his mind for meeting Commander Slidell. They were all good fellows. Once they realized the new first officer wasn't a swashbuckler quick to damn all yard personnel as grafting incompetents, they'd pointed out the care they'd taken to make sure the inevitable trade-offs didn't seriously degrade the tender's safety and performance.

    Which Daniel understood. A private yard, even a scrupulously honest one, had to compromise also if it was to stay in business. Bergen and Associates, now with Daniel as managing partner, expected increased profits as it entered its third decade.

    "We need to go over the Power Room still," Avars said to his colleagues. They were making an in-house check before the final inspection in company with the Hermes' officers for formal hand-over. "Though I don't think anything remains there other than the missing louvers."

    The three inspectors started toward the boarding bridge thirty feet down the quay, their boots scrunching. Daniel transferred the rolled documents—his orders and the mysterious scroll he was delivering to Slidell—to his left hand so that he could salute properly. Or at any rate, as properly as he ever managed.

    "Leary?" Episcopo called to his back. "I know the Hermes's not the sort of ship you're used to, but she's a solid craft if you give her a chance."

    Daniel smiled. The comment had broken his concentration—which was exactly what he needed, because his mind had been focusing on the series of unpleasant reactions he might have to face when he met his new captain.

    The situation was uncomfortable for Lieutenant Leary. It was bound to be hugely irritating to the far senior Commander Slidell, who was being rushed off-planet with a First Lieutenant whom he'd almost certainly see as a minder.

    Slidell and Ganse took in the fact that Daniel wasn't from the dockyard staff as they must've thought at first. Ganse stumbled and muttered something to Slidell in a low voice; the commander snapped a curt reply without taking his eyes off Daniel.

    Daniel stood at Parade Rest. His eyes were on a tram pylon just inside the distant perimeter of the port reservation; he could still follow the approaching officers with his peripheral vision. When they'd approached within eight feet—three formal paces, call it—Daniel thudded his heels together and saluted, bellowing, "Sir! Lieutenant Daniel Leary reporting as ordered!"

    Slidell replied with an effortless, perfectly formed salute. When the commander's arm dropped, Daniel slid his left foot to Parade Rest. He held out the open document between his thumb and index finger, offering it to Slidell. "Sir!" he said. "My orders!"

    He kept the remaining scroll in his left hand for the moment. One thing at a time.

    Slidell took the orders and read them sourly. He was a slender man of a little more than average height. He looked forty standard years old, but Adele said he was only thirty-seven; his high forehead and expression of cold disgust increased his apparent age.

    "Look at this, Ganse!" he said, offering the thick parchment to his companion. "I couldn't believe they'd really make such a grotesque mistake, but here it is. First Lieutenant indeed!"

    Slidell returned his attention to Daniel, looking even more disapproving than before. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Leary," he said, a lie if Daniel had ever heard one, "but when I heard the rumor of your posting to the Hermes, I checked dates of commission. Mr. Ganse is of course your senior in grade, by almost three years, in fact. You'll become the Second Lieutenant—unless perhaps you'll refuse the appointment now that you see an error was made?"

    "Sir," Daniel said truthfully, "I don't understand the situation. I trust the Navy Office will provide us with clarification shortly."

    What Daniel suspected, based on his discussion with Adele, was that the hasty orders transferring Lieutenant Ganse off the Hermes hadn't caught up with him yet. The lieutenant was a good-looking fellow with curly red hair that suggested a heartiness which his reserved demeanor and his quietly-blameless record belied. He looked puzzled and concerned by the situation—but not hostile, unlike Commander Slidell.

    "I really don't see what there is to clarify," Slidell said forcefully, rattling the orders forgotten in his hand. "Do you, Ganse? It's simply a mistake and that's already clear."

    Daniel cleared his throat; this was probably as good a time as there was going to be to deliver the remaining document, though it wasn't a good time at all. "Sir?" he said, holding out the scroll. "I was directed to deliver this to you when I presented my orders."

    "What?" said Slidell, staring at the rolled parchment. He didn't extend a hand to take it. He looked like a man who's opened a door and met a snarling animal. "What in the name of the Great God is this, Leary?"

    "Sir," Daniel said, "I don't know. Secretary Klemsch told me—"

    A slight liberty with the literal truth, but completely accurate in implication.

    "—to deliver this to you with the direction that you were to open it immediately and read it aloud."

    Daniel continued to stand at Parade Rest rather than relaxing, and he kept his eyes focused on the horizon. Animals—and human beings at a visceral level, particularly men, were animals—tended to react to a direct gaze as a challenge. The last thing Daniel needed now was to raise the emotional temperature still higher.

    He knew from discussions with other RCN officers that Slidell—before this latest business—had the reputation of being an able officer and a cultured gentleman. Either the stress of recent events or whatever underlying problem had caused him to put three men out an airlock without a formal court-martial had Slidell close to the edge of his temper now; that would be obvious to anybody. Daniel couldn't imagine any good result for himself if his new captain snapped and, for example, threw a punch.

    "I've never heard of anything so absurd," Slidell said, snatching the scroll from Daniel's hand. "I swear, Leary, if this is some jape of yours . . ."

    His voice trailed off as he broke the seal and unrolled the document. Slidell might think based on the stories going around that Daniel Leary was a childish, grandstanding fool whose luck would run out shortly, but he couldn't really believe that Daniel would forge a document and take the name of the Secretary to the Navy Board in vain.

    Slidell focused on the writing within. His face went blank, then thunderous.

    "I don't believe this," he said on a rising note. "This is impossible!"

    "What is that, sir?" asked Ganse, looking over the commander's shoulder. "Does it explain . . . ?"

    Daniel held a rigidly formal silence. To have reminded Slidell that the direction was to read the document aloud wouldn't have been . . . well, it would've left "impolitic" behind on a fast ship.

    "It's infamous!" Slidell shouted. "I've never heard of anything like this! Completely infamous! You!"

    He pointed the document in Daniel's face in a trembling hand.

    "What do you know about this?"

    "Sir," Daniel said; quietly, truthfully, his eyes following a tram entering the reservation. "I don't know anything about it. I was directed to deliver the document. It was made clear to me that I wasn't to question—that an RCN officer didn't question—orders."

    He was shading truth again, though again without being misleading. Good Lord, what was in the second scroll? 

    Slidell drew himself up stiffly and offered the document to Daniel. In a tone of icy anger far different from the honest fury he'd displayed to this point, he said, "Do please read it, then, Lieutenant. Since it concerns you so closely, I'm sure Admiral Anston won't mind. In fact, won't you read it aloud for us? Perhaps I'll find it more intelligible if I listen to it."

    Daniel took the opened scroll. Both scrolls, in fact: his own appointment, crumpled now, came with it.

    He cleared his throat. The second document was inscribed in a bold holograph, perfectly legible. Daniel read, "My dear Slidell. I'm writing to save possible embarrassment. Early tomorrow morning the Senate will decree Special Honors to the late Commander Stacey Bergen for his services to the Republic in the fields of exploration and navigation. As the Commander is deceased, these honors will take the form of the extraordinary elevation of his closest living relative, Lt. Daniel Leary, on the Lieutenant's List. Leary's appointment will be put back to the date of his uncle's retirement from the RCN twenty-one years ago."

    Daniel cleared his throat again. "And it's signed 'Anston,'" he added quietly, meeting Slidell's eyes for the first time.

    "Well, I suppose we have no choice then, have we, Ganse?" Slidell said to his companion. "Justice, tradition, and propriety have no chance of prevailing against the Senate and Navy Board, do they?"

    Ganse still wore a puzzled expression. He was looking from Daniel's face to Admiral Anston's note, then back again. "Well," he said, "I've never heard of such a proceeding, but Commander Bergen was a great explorer. A truly great . . ."

    He met Daniel's eyes and gave him an honest smile. "I envy you knowing Commander Bergen, Leary," he said. "And I've heard of your exploits, of course. It'll be a pleasure to serve with you."

    Ganse's arm twitched as he started to extend his hand to shake Daniel's. Commander Slidell stared at him in glacial rage. Ganse looked startled and stiffened to Parade Rest.

    "You'll need to remove your duffel from the First Lieutenant's cabin, Ganse," Slidell said, his eyes on Daniel again. "I'll follow you aboard after I have a few words with Mr. Leary."

    "I'm perfectly willing to take the starboard cabin, Ganse," Daniel said. The billets of the First and Second Lieutenants were ordinarily identical except for their location, across a corridor from one another and adjacent to the wardroom. "No need to move for me."

    "On ships under my command, Leary," Slidell said in a poisonous voice, "matters are conducted properly. I hope you can learn to adapt to this change from your own practice. Mr. Ganse, carry out my orders if you will!"

    The red-haired lieutenant trotted toward the boarding bridge without looking around. Daniel felt suddenly calm. The situation wasn't going to fly out of control as he'd initially feared it might. It was unpleasant, certainly, and the voyage to come was likely to be extremely unpleasant; but Daniel had done many unpleasant things in the past. That was simply a part of life.

    "I know why you've taken this appointment, Leary," Slidell said. He sounded calmer than he'd been. "And it's not going to work."

    "Sir," Daniel said quietly. "I accepted this appointment because I'm an RCN officer and this is where the Navy Office in its wisdom determined that I could best serve the needs of the Republic. I didn't seek this place—"

    And that was an understatement if ever there was one!

    "—but I'll carry out my duties aboard the Hermes to the best of my ability."

    "So you say," Slidell said without particular emphasis. "Well, let me tell you something, Leary: there was a conspiracy against me on my last voyage. The record shows I knew how to deal with it, and I haven't forgotten how. Be very clear on that point!"

    "Sir!" said Daniel, clicking his heels to Attention again and preparing to salute. Slidell had already turned and was striding toward the boarding bridge.

    Daniel let his body relax, though his mind was still in the state required by battle or a tricky maneuver. Adele and the servants were coming toward him. They'd have to get their gear aboard quickly, because he was quite sure Slidell would lift ship whether or not that part of the preparations was complete.

    Daniel smiled. Treating the situation as a command problem rather than a personal one made the salient points stand out more clearly than they would in a sea of emotion.

    On one aspect, he simply didn't have enough information to make a prediction. Daniel knew he wasn't going to lead a conspiracy against Commander Slidell. The difficulty was that he wasn't sure Midshipman Kearnes had been doing anything of the sort either . . . and Slidell had put Kearnes out an airlock.

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