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The Way to Glory: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Saturday, April 2, 2005 00:29 EST



Sinmary Port on Nikitin

    The captain's clerk, Orly, had been Slidell's clerk aboard the Bainbridge. He watched Daniel tensely over his console. The court martial records showed he'd been heavily involved in the suppression of the mutiny.

    From the scuttlebutt Hogg had gathered, Orly'd fired into the deck while arresting the bosun. He'd nearly blown his foot off, and the ricochet clipped the ear of a 'trustworthy' technician behind him in the corridor.

    "The Captain says you can go in now," the clerk said, his hand hovering close to the cloth-covered pistol on the stand he'd moved next to his console.

    "Thank you, Orly," Daniel said, giving him a bright smile as he stepped to the hatch of the captain's day-cabin. He hoped the nervous clerk wouldn't decide he was baring his teeth in a prelude to a snarling attack.

    On the positive side, Orly clearly didn't know much about guns. If he did cut loose in panic, he was at least as likely to shoot Captain Slidell as he was Daniel.

    Though that didn't mean Daniel himself wouldn't be blamed for the result.

    The whimsy made Daniel smile, which he realized instantly from the look on Slidell's face wasn't the expression to have worn on greeting his superior officer. This one, at any rate. Daniel braced to attention, saluted, and said, "Sir! I need to go over arrangements for 614's liftoff with you."

    "Close the hatch, Leary," Slidell said. His tone had the calm of a dog straining at a leash. He didn't bother to say, "At ease," or return the salute; Daniel hadn't expected that he would.

    Daniel pulled the hatch to, then dogged it on his own initiative. Slidell could snarl at him no matter which choice he made about dogging it--or if he asked direction. One learns very quickly in life, let alone in the RCN, that there are situations in which you couldn't win. You dealt with them and got on with your business.

    "All right, Leary," Slidell said from his seat behind the console. "Nobody can overhear us now, so we don't have to lie."

    "Sir," said Daniel carefully. If Slidell really thought nobody was eaves-dropping on them, he didn't know Adele very well... which was probably the case.

    The day room was small but attractively appointed. The couch and two chairs, though bolted to the deck, were hand-carved wooden souvenirs of a previous appointment. On one bulkhead was a hologram of a smiling woman with two children whose features bore obvious resemblance to Slidell's. Across from the hologram were two rural watercolors, of a tile-roofed hut and of drystone fences snaking across a hillside. Slidell had a reputation as a skilled amateur painter.

    "You're blackmailing the Admiral," Slidell said baldly. "She's furious, but she's giving you this new chance to make a hero of yourself anyway. No wonder you've got so many medals, Leary! I now see that you use not only influence but extortion to make sure that all the high-profile assignments are given to you!"

    Daniel blinked. He was so non-plussed that he didn't even bother to deny the charge.

    "Well, you've gotten what you were after," Slidell said. "And much may it profit you, Lieutenant! I've discussed the situation on Yang with people who know, and I don't mind telling you that I think you've overreached yourself this time. You may think you're Fortune's Favorite, but I think you'll find swimming in a cesspool like Yang leaves you stinking like the filth I know you are at heart!"

    "Sir," said Daniel quietly. "I'm very sorry you feel that way. I assure you my only wish is to perform the tasks my superiors set me, according to the regulations and tradition of the RCN."

    "Oh, don't worry, Leary," Slidell sneered. "It doesn't matter what I feel since I have my orders too. You've gotten the assignment you've connived for, and I've given you a crew of the most senior personnel who came with you from that corvette of yours."

    "Thank you very much, sir," Daniel said, speaking as calmly and unemotionally as he could. Was Slidell literally insane? Hatred, even irrational hatred, was understandable, but coupling the hatred with the offer of the thirty best spacers in the RCN made the Captain's attitude completely beyond imagination.

    "Oh, you needn't pretend to thank me, Leary," Slidell said with a tired sneer. "I'm simply watching my back. Do you think I hadn't realized how those people could sabotage the Hermes in your absence? Wouldn't that look fine? Not only does Lieutenant Leary pull off a brilliant coup, but while he's on detached duty Commander Slidell can't even manage to lift the tender from Nikitin! That's what you were planning, isn't it?"

    "No sir," Daniel said. His voice rising despite his best efforts, he went on, "And if I may add, sir, that's a libel on some of the best and most loyal personnel who ever wore the uniform of the RCN!"

    "You don't need to posture, Leary," Slidell snapped. "I told you we're alone here. I swear I'd send Pasternak with you, but I can't possibly put both my chiefs on the same cutter. I'm making do with getting Woetjans off the Hermes. Nobody's in a better position to lead a mutiny than the bosun, as I well know!"

    He's a skilled astrogator, Daniel thought, straight-faced. A beloved husband and father, and a very able watercolorist.

    And also more paranoid than most of the people in mental institutions.

    "Sir," Daniel said, deciding to proceed as though none of the previous words had been said--which would've been a greatly preferable situation. "Cutter 614 will be ready to lift in less than two hours. The crew's personal items are aboard and we're finishing loading stores. When will it be possible for the Hermes to lift us to orbit?"

    "Not for a week, Leary," Slidell said, "though the work may go faster now that I've rid the crew of possible troublemakers. But in any case you won't be waiting for the Hermes. I'm ordering you to get under way immediately, based on the urgency which Admiral Milne attaches to your mission."

    "Sir...," Daniel said, blinking again and swallowing. "Sir, we'll be extremely short of reaction mass if we have to lift to orbit ourselves. I realize repairs to the tender's rig won't be complete for several days at least, but I hoped you'd lift us to orbit, then land immediately to finish work."

    "Did you, Leary?" Slidell said, sounding tired and disgusted rather than angry. "Then I'm afraid your hope has been dashed. Many of mine have been dashed over the years too. They tell me it builds character."

    Daniel opened his mouth, then closed it again. What was he going to do, beg? Which indeed he'd have been willing to do for the sake of the crew, if he'd thought there was a chance of changing the Commander's mind. They'd be able to lift off and land, but they'd have to use the High Drive very sparingly during the voyage proper. That'd add days, possibly weeks, to the operation, though he wouldn't have the precise time until he'd revised his itinerary.

    "Yes sir," Daniel said. He saluted again and opened the hatch without being dismissed. He doubted Slidell would have him court martialled for the discourtesy, though you could never tell.

    Sometimes you just had to deal with situations and get on with your business the best way you could.



    Adele balanced her personal data unit on her lap, watching the Garnet lift in steam and iridescence on the left half of her display while she monitored port communications on the right side. She was coupled to the cutter's main computer--there was plenty of excess capacity--but only Daniel could use its display.

    Cutter 614's outer hatch sighed shut, then automatically dogged itself--cling-cling, cling-cling, cling-cling. Woetjans tested the closure manually, then stepped out of the airlock and swung the inner hatch to.

    The bosun wore her hard suit, as did the other riggers in the cutter's single bay. Adele, hunching on her jump-seat, had the feeling of being a small child in a mob of adults. None of them wished her the least harm, but there was a very real chance that she was going to be trampled.

    "614 to Hermes Control," Daniel said. "We're closed up and prepared to decouple. Over."

    Adele would've heard the transmission anyway, but he'd set the cutter's internal speakers to echo all messages that went through the link to the tender. If everything went right, most of a starship's crew had nothing to do during liftoff. Daniel believed that keeping his personnel aware of the ordinary exchanges made it less likely that they'd use their free time to invent extraordinary possibilities.

    The high-pitched buzz of the Garnet's thrusters had died away. The patrol cruiser's image changed from a silvery cylinder to spots of plasma which themselves merged into a bright single blur. Adele switched that half her display to a view of the Hermes from scanners on the nearest vessel, the Cutlass in a slip a quarter mile to the east.

    "Roger, 614," Lt. Ganse's voice replied. There was a loud double clang as the hooks locking the cutter to the tender's hull released. "I'm extending the davits now, over."

    The Second Lieutenant rather than Captain Slidell was taking charge of the cutter's liftoff. That was neither unexpected nor undesirable.

    The cutter swung side to side as the telescoping davits extended, pushing her away from the Hermes so that she could light her thrusters without damaging the mother ship's hull and rig. The davits were hydraulic like the antennas themselves, but their seals shrieked like saws on steel as they rubbed.

    The swinging motion intensified. Most of the crew was seated, though some were in the central aisle because the bunks/benches didn't have enough room when so many personnel were in rigging suits. Hogg and Tovera were in the back of the bay, making the close quarters closer yet.

    Woetjans remained where she was. Protecting me from being stepped on, Adele suddenly realized. Sometimes she felt the crew--the former Sissies, at any rate--treated her like a mascot rather than a fellow spacer; but there was also the sort of unthinking respect that other members of the People's Party had shown toward their leader, Lucius Mundy....

    The bosun turned and looked down. "Ordinarily we'd lift from the davits," she explained. "If we was in orbit, I mean. Here Ganse's going to set us on the water. That's a bloody sight better than having to screw with the clamps releasing just so."

    Adele nodded. The bosun meant clamps attaching the davits to the cutter--or vice versa--she supposed, but it didn't really matter to her. Woetjans, who could be expected to know, was pleased with the situation. In any case it didn't call for the involvement of a Signals Officer.

    614's outriggers patted the water; then the vessel splashed hard with another double clang. On Adele's display a curtain of spray lifted and sank back to show the cutter bobbing. The imagery didn't look nearly as violent as the motion felt from inside. The davits shrieked again as they withdrew, but at least this time the sound wasn't transmitted directly through the cutter's hull.

    "614, this is Hermes," Ganse said. "You are cleared for liftoff. Over."

    "Roger, Hermes," Daniel said. "Break, ship prepare to light thrusters."

    Adele echoed the command console as a sidebar over the left-side imagery. The four thruster icons were green, and the three High Drive motors were cross-hatched green on standby, showing that the pumps were cycling reaction mass though their converters weren't breaking it down into anti-matter as yet.

    Sentino, the Senior Motorman in the seat to the left of the command console, waited nervously. Sun, at the gunnery board, had the thruster data up also; though a Gunner's Mate, he also had a Power Room rating, Adele recalled. That might come in handy....

    "Lighting thrusters," Daniel said, stabbing an index finger into his virtual controls. The cutter shuddered as though a giant pillow had struck the underside of the hull; the whine of the pumps picked up to meet the demand. Steam gushed on the imagery, completely hiding the hull.

    "Liftoff in three seconds," Daniel said. That was much less time than he'd usually have given the nozzles to warm up before raising them to full power. "Liftoff!"

    A roar echoed from the slip as plasma jets flash-heated divots of water into steam. For a moment 614 trembled as thrust struggled to overcome inertia; then the vessel began to rise.

    Sentino said, "Three's down by twenty percent!" on the command channel. The words didn't mean anything to Adele, but Daniel had already taken the thrusters out of automatic mode and was adjusting them individually. A line of numbers cascaded on Adele's sidebar. Though the fringes were gibberish to her, she noticed the cutter leveled from what'd been a slightly nose-down attitude.

    "Hold them there if you please, Sentino," Daniel said, using the intercom because no one could shout over the thunder of thrusters at maximum output. "I judge it'll take some three minutes from commencement of lift before we can switch to the High Drive."

    Adele wiped the image from her display and got to work locating the Garnet. Captain Toron wasn't masking his vessel's emissions--he had no reason to--but through bad luck the patrol cruiser was on the other side of the planet when 614 lifted off. It took her nearly a minute to locate the other vessel, lock a laser communicator on it, and call, "RCS Garnet, this is RCS Cutter 614. Please reply by laser, using a reciprocal of this signal. Over."

    It took a moment. If Hernandez were under me--Adele thought; and as she formed the words, the communicator crackled, "Garnet to 614, hold one for the First Lieutenant." Then in Zileri's voice it resumed, "Mundy, this is Garnet. Why on laser? Is your microwave out? Over."

    "Garnet," Adele said, "laser is more secure. I thought it as well that we not confuse Port Control. Are matters in hand from your side? Ah, over."

    Zileri laughed. "Commander Slidell would have kittens, you mean?" he said. "Well, I've run worse risks and the Skipper says he has too. But put Dannie on and I'll tell him we're ready to pump. Over."

    "I'll put you through to Captain Leary," Adele said. "He does not, I repeat does not, know anything about this. I, ah, didn't want to get his hopes up in case things didn't work out. Over. Ah, break. Captain, Lieutenant Zileri of the Garnet wishes to speak with you. May I put him through? Over."

    She was sitting back to back with Daniel in the command console, but she had a thumb-sized image of his face at the top of her display. Daniel looked up in surprise from the astrogation layout on which he was concentrating and said, "Paolo? I suppose he wants to wish me a safe voyage; we were friends in the Academy, you know. Sure, put him through."

    "Lieutenant Zileri," Adele said, "you may go ahead. Over."

    "Dannie boy," Zileri said, almost before the words were out of Adele's mouth. "My Skipper tells me we've got a problem. We're up here in orbit with full tanks of reaction mass and we'd like to get rid of some of it before we land back in Sinmary Port. Is there any possibility that we could offload some to you? Anything up to a thousand tons, brother. Garnet over."

    Daniel's image blinked like a small animal in the headlights. "Paolo, is that you?" he said. "Good God, man, Admiral Milne'll skin you alive if she learns you've been helping me! I don't know what you've heard, but I'm not her fair-haired boy. Over."

    "The Skipper says he can live with that," Zileri replied. "He says the only thing is, if you retire from the RCN, you have to will us your signals officer. You got that, Dannie? Over."

    "You get Officer Mundy over my dead body," Daniel said cheerfully. "Which probably means her dead body too, so I'll try not to let that happen. Now, if you're really willing to top off 614's tanks, let's plot a rendezvous and get on with it! 614 over."

    Adele noticed that even as he spoke Daniel had switched his display to a Plot Position Indicator that gave the relative locations of the Garnet and Cutter 614. His image was grinning like a child on Christmas morning.

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