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The Way to Glory: Chapter Seven

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



Harbor Three on Cinnabar

    The Hermes' Battle Direction Center was a utilitarian chamber with six central consoles spaced in an inward-facing circle. On most warships, even a small corvette like the Princess Cecile, one of those consoles would be an attack board. There a junior officer would plot missile launches in case the gunnery officer on the bridge became a casualty. The Hermes had no missiles, so Adele could take that console without disrupting the tender's normal assignments.

    Three technicians had installed a special communication and decryption module within the console; they and Adele were the only people within the Battle Center. Though the techs wore RCN utilities without name tapes or rank tabs, they'd come from Mistress Sand; it was very unlikely that their names appeared anywhere within the Navy Office.

    The young female positioned the access plate over the opening in the console base, then locked the clips home by tapping the corners of the plate with the heel of her hand. She rose to her feet.

    "That should serve," said the senior tech, a middle-aged man. He turned to Adele and said, "Do you want us to wait while you test it?"

    "I think not," said Adele. "I'll want to go over it thoroughly. I'll let you know if I find any problems."

    Adele much preferred not to have anyone else present when she was working. Once she got started it didn't matter: she sank into a world of her own in which the data cascading at the direction of her wands walled her off from intrusion.

    When she started, though, she was likely to cast around for a time. She couldn't avoid feeling that an observer was judging and condemning her waste effort.

    Harbor Three was an ideal location to put the gear through its paces. Eavesdropping on the business of the largest military port on Cinnabar would let Adele know very quickly how much she'd be able to learn in a comparable Alliance base. A number of independent powers had considerable military strength, but none was in the same communications-security league with the two principal adversaries.

    The technicians exited, leaving the armored door open behind them. A fourth member of Mistress Sand's organization joined them. He'd been lounging in the corridor outside, not as a guard but to explain to anybody who wanted to enter that the BDC was closed while delicate calibrations of the commo equipment were being carried out.

    There was no need for a guard: Adele had set the mechanical interlocks from the inside after she closed the door behind the technicians. Nothing short of a missile could enter the chamber until Adele reopened it.

    Adele switched on the console and started to sit, but as the newly installed equipment hummed to life she heard Woetjans bellow, "Hargood, if you don't take three seconds off your time, I'll derate you to Landsman. Bloody hell! I'll transfer you to the Power Room, see if I don't!"

    Smiling, Adele left the console as it was and walked into the passage connecting the tender's bow and stern sections. Hatches to the outer hull were open. The hacksaw voice of Woetjans, the Sissie's bosun, was unmistakable as she whipped her riggers into shape after the drink and dissipation of a long leave.

    She was now the bosun—the Chief of Rig; the warrant officer responsible for a starship's antennas and sails—of the Hermes. It struck Adele that there might've been debate as to who took the chief's slot on the tender when the crews were combined, were it not for the fact that Commander Slidell had executed the bosun of the Bainbridge.

    "All right!" Woetjans said. "That's enough for the port watch, and a piss poor lot you look, too! Starboard watch to the mastheads and back, now!"

    Adele looked through the hatch above her. She could see Woetjans' hand when the bosun gestured broadly, but the opening was above Adele's reach even if she'd had enough upper body strength to haul herself up.

    "May the darkness eat my bones, Wesso!" Woetjans said. "I've seen babies crawl up the rigging faster than you're climbing!"

    "Woetjans?" Adele called.

    The bosun's face suddenly appeared in the hatchway, glowering from habit and the present process of getting the riggers back in shape. Her expression suddenly spread into a smile. That didn't make the bosun beautiful—nothing could—but it gave her face the gnarled attraction of a mighty tree.

    "Mistress Mundy!" she cried. "By God mistress, I'm glad to see you! Now I know we'll be all right, with you and Mister Leary both! You want to hop up here?"

    Without waiting for an answer, she reached down. Woetjans had the long, powerful arms of a tree-climbing ape. They made her remarkably nimble in a starship's rigging, and they were just as useful when she waded into a brawl swinging her weapon of choice, a length of high-pressure tubing.

    Adele gripped the bosun's hand in both of hers. She'd thought Woetjans might lower a ladder to her; which meant she hadn't been thinking at all. . . .

    "I can't—" she said, meaning to finish the sentence with, "pull myself up," or "do much to help," something like that. She didn't bother, because the bosun straightened in a single easy motion and snatched Adele onto the deck.

    Well, deck of a sort. The bar connecting the tender's bow and stern had flat catwalks top and bottom, port and starboard. Adele stood with Woetjans on the uppermost of these.

    Woetjans noticed Adele glancing at the surface and explained, "The connecting hull curves a bit too tight to be safe in the Matrix. I mean, nobody experienced is going to have a problem, but a newbie could lose the grip of both his boots and go floating off into nowhere."

    Adele heard a hint of apology in the bosun's voice. She wasn't apologizing for what she'd said, but Adele could guess what the bosun had been thinking. With a smile of self-awareness, Adele said, "A newbie or someone as notably clumsy as I am, you mean. Though I generally have sense enough to wear a safety line."

    "That you do, mistress," Woetjans agreed in relief. "And that's always a good plan for those who don't, you know, have much call to be out on deck."

    The bosun transferred her attention to the riggers. The Hermes had four rings of antennas, three around the bow section and one at the cardinal points of the stern. The Sissie, a much smaller vessel, had six, and a battleship of 80 thousand tons might have twenty or more.

    At present the dorsal masts were extended. The other sets were telescoped and folded against the hull.

    The antennas and yards spread electrically charged sails to shift a vessel among the bubble universes of the Matrix. The sails didn't drive the ship—that was accomplished by the inertia imparted by the High Drive in the sidereal universe. Rather they blocked calculated amounts of the Casimir Radiation which streamed through every universe in unvarying degree, pushing the vessel from bubble to bubble to take advantage of differing constants of time and velocity.

    The more sails, the greater subtleties of action within the Matrix; and therefore greater speed and maneuverability in relation to the sidereal universe. Anti-pirate tenders were tubs.

    Adele smiled coldly. Tenders were tubs with a purpose, however. In this instance the Hermes would also serve the purposes of Mistress Bernis Sand.

    "All right, port watch up and down!" Woetjans said. "Up and down, you scuts, and try and look like you're Sissies and not gutter scrapings!"

    "Aw, Chief, we been at this two bloody hours!" a rigger cried. "Give us a break, hey?"

    "That's right, Patco!" Woetjans replied. "Two bloody hours, and two more if I have to. Remember, they're delivering the Bridgies yet today. I'm damned if I'm going to have my people showed up by a load of kids and retreads off a training ship! Up and down, Sissies!"

    The riggers swarmed up the lines. They reminded Adele of the way liquid spreads through fabric: some spacers a little ahead, some a little behind, but all moving as a single entity toward a common purpose.

    "Can't say I'm looking forward to this voyage the way I have some in the past, mistress," Woetjans said quietly. "Oh, I know you and Mister Leary'll make it right if anybody can, but it's God's truth that I'd sooner not be shipping under Commander Slidell. I think that and all the Sissies think that. And I'll stake my left arm that mosta the lot from the Bainbridge think that too."

    The bosun shook her head. "I knew Calahan," she said, "that's the bosun who went out the lock. He was a hard man and no mistake. He'd run guns and I shouldn't wonder if he knew about piracy from the other side, if you take my drift. But I don't believe he was planning to mutiny on an RCN warship. That's just crazy."

    Adele shrugged. "I don't have any knowledge about that, Woetjans," she said.

    A line of seven tram cars, their blue-gray paint chipped from hard service, rattled to a halt on the quay. The doors of the first and last car opened, disgorging two squads of Shore Police with sub-machine guns and an officer.

    The latter checked to make sure his platoon was ready, then touched a control box on his belt. Only then did the other five cars open. Spacers with downcast eyes filed out and shambled toward the Hermes.

    "There's the Bridgies," Woetjans said glumly. "The rest of our crew."

    "Why, they're being treated like prisoners!" Adele said in amazement. She'd often seen liberty parties stagger back to the ship in the morning, every soul hung over if they weren't still drunk. Never had she encountered so crestfallen a group as this draft from the Bainbridge.

    "That's just what they are, mistress," Woetjans said. "Locked up as soon as Slidell reported what he'd done. 'As witnesses' they said, but everybody knew it was so they wouldn't talk before they could be shipped off Cinnabar again. And now we're all locked up till lift-off—saving you and the other officers, I mean."

    Formally, the bosun and Chief Engineer were the most senior warrant officers aboard a ship; in practice Woetjans and the rest of the Sissies always treated Adele as a noble rather than a junior technical specialist. She was both, of course; and while she didn't ask to be treated with deference, the practice had done nothing to impair the efficiency of the Princess Cecile.

    "This is a very regrettable situation," Adele said, her eyes narrowed.

    "Aye, so it is," the bosun said grimly as she pulled on the heavy gauntlets hanging from her belt. They were part of the rigging suit she'd wear while working in the Matrix. "Well, I got my work cut out for me, that's the bloody truth."

    In a bellow she continued, "All you Bridgies with riggers ratings, you hold right where you are! I'm Woetjans, I'm Chief of Rig, and after I hear your names we're going to see what you can do!"

    Instead of going in through the hatch and walking to the quay via the boarding bridge, Woetjans gripped the line snubbed at her feet. She released the shackle, then swung down. She'd obviously prepared this maneuver to impress the crewmembers who didn't already know her.

    She impressed Adele as well. Anyone glancing at Woetjans would expect physical prowess, but this had taken careful planning. She'd had to rig a line to the yard of a forward antenna and belay it to the stern in order to come down precisely in front of the boarding bridge. Not at all a stupid person, Woetjans, for all that she could barely read her own name.

    Adele had known the bosun would take her comment as agreement; that was her intent. In truth, while she knew the ruthlessness of the Navy Office—and of the Senate; who should know that better than the last surviving Mundy of Chatsworth?—she was by no means sure the situation was as cut and dried as Woetjans supposed.

    Slidell was not only well-connected, he had a very good record. That was why he'd been given command of a training vessel, after all.

    But with the ship's captain deeply suspicious of Lieutenant Leary and everyone connected with him, well . . . there were othes besides Woetjans who had their work cut out for them.



    The tram pulled into the siding, halting with a click as it settled onto the rail. Besides Hogg and Daniel there were six people in the car, going home and at this hour anxious to be there, but likewise too tired to protest when the doors opened to a gust of rain.

    "Hogg, you really can go back to the house, you know," Daniel said. The storm had gotten worse since they left Chatsworth Minor, and it'd been bad enough then.

    "Aye," said Hogg, snugging his collar close as he stepped from the car to the leeward side of the kiosk. "And I could join the priesthood, too, which I guess is about as likely. I been out in worse'n this, young master. We both of us have."

    Hogg wore high, soft-soled boots, a hat whose broad, floppy brim directed runnels out beyond his body, and a full-length cloak of raw wool, tightly woven with the natural oils still in the fabric. The cloak repelled rain without the glints and rustling a hard synthetic fabric might have caused. Those were important attributes for a hunter, and even more important for a poacher who risked more than the loss of a trophy.

    Daniel got out, waiting beside his servant for a moment while the tram hissed down the street. He'd probably never see the other passengers again nor they him, but it was a matter of courtesy not to come hammering on the door of Mistress Maeve Astola with a crowd of strangers looking on.

    The Hermes would lift tomorrow in what was actually a shake-down cruise though classed as a fully operational deployment. Quite a lot could go wrong with the ship, and her crew was even more problematical.

    A First Lieutenant in such circumstances could choose to spend his last night on Cinnabar in various fashions. Most would decide to go over matters they'd checked three times already. Commander Slidell was doing that now, prowling the tender's antennas with a handlight, examining joints that might stick and hinges that might shear.

    And some of them would stick and shear, to an overwhelming statistical probability. A starship in operation was too powerful and too complex not to stress portions of its fabric beyond the breaking point. But by now, only testing in actual service could determine which pieces were going to break. Daniel believed he'd be better able to deal with the inevitable failures if he spent the night in relaxing activity.

    "You know she was laying for you, don't you?" Hogg said sourly. "Bints like her don't hang out in spacers' bars."

    "Well, The Lower Deck isn't the Shamrock, after all," Daniel said, thinking about his brief contact with the lady.

    "It is to the likes of her," Hogg said, quite truthfully. As another blast of rain lashed the street. "All I'm saying is, don't figure you know for sure what she's got in mind, young master. There's people who want more from you than what you carry between your legs."

    "Well, Hogg," Daniel said as he ducked out of the kiosk in what he hoped was a lull. "That's quite true, but I'm afraid the only way to learn is to test it in practice."

    Mistress Astola was a black-haired beauty whose slender waist set off her hips and bosom perfectly. She'd walked up to the table where Daniel was saying goodbye to friends, whispered an invitation, and left the bar as suddenly as she'd appeared. The offer couldn't have been better timed. Daniel'd intended to look for company at the party the Richelets were giving, but he'd been working hard enough to prefer a simpler alternative tonight.

    The address was fifty feet from the tram stop: a four-story townhouse of similar age and quality to Chatsworth Minor. Daniel stepped into the triple-arched door recess and tapped on the panel. The remainder of the lady's directions were quite simple: "A servant will open the door, then leave. Go down the hall to the right to the lighted drawing room."

    He glanced back at the tram kiosk. A small light in the ceiling had been on; it no longer was, leaving Hogg completely concealed on this rain-swept night.

    Daniel didn't know what Hogg was worried about. Perhaps he wasn't worried at all and was just doing his duty as he saw it. Men like Hogg didn't ask why a gentleman's servant should wait in a downpour while his master met a lady in complete privacy; they just did it, because it was their job.

    While Daniel grew up on Bantry, Speaker Leary had generally been in Xenos on political business. Corder Leary had neither time nor the inclination to be a father to a boy who shared none of his interests. Hogg had filled the place, raising Daniel in his own conception of duty. It'd served Daniel well as an RCN officer, and as a man.

    The door opened inward with a gentle hoosh; a slim figure, probably female, stood half-concealed in the anteroom. "Please go on through, sir," she whispered.

    The inner panel was ajar; light glowed around the open edge. As Daniel pulled it toward him, he heard the street door thump shut.

    The ornate staircase to the upper floors was offset to the left. There was a light somewhere upstairs, casting a diffuse glow through the banisters, but none of the wall sconces in the frescoed entryway were lit.

    More light wavered softly from the hallway to the right. Daniel walked toward it, his careful footsteps soundless on the thick carpet. He entered a room covered with age-darkened wooden panels. A shaded candle on the table cast the only illumination; the figure seated on the other side was clearly male.

    "Don't bother posturing, boy," the figure said. "There's only the two of us here, and bluster isn't going to impress me. Sit down and listen."

    Daniel stared at him. It'd been eight years since he last saw his father; he hadn't expected ever to see him again.

    "Sir, you have nothing to say to me," Daniel said. He was dizzy with surprise. If he'd met a squad of gunmen he'd have known how to react, but this . . .

    "And I have nothing to say to you!" Daniel said. He'd gone white; now his face flushed and he felt as though his skin was burning. His fists were clenched.

    Daniel gripped the back of the chair before him, not to sit in but from a momentary urge to hurl it into the wall. He needed to act to burn off the adrenaline that had set his muscles trembling violently.

    "I said, don't bluster!" Corder snapped. "I'm not here because I want to be, boy. This is family, and don't tell me you're not a Leary. I've watched you, and there's never a Bergen born who'd go into a fight the way you do. Now, sit down and listen."

    Daniel opened his hands but left them resting on the chair back. He took a deep, shuddering breath. He didn't think it helped, but he managed to say without stammering, "There's other things than fighting, sir."

    "Sure there are," Corder said. "And there's other people to do them, too, while we Learys do the things the others can't or won't. You've got a chestful of medals, I suppose; but the real reward is knowing there's places that Cinnabar traders can go now that they couldn't if it hadn't been for a Leary making it safe for them."

    Which was true. Daniel hadn't thought anybody else, not even Adele, understood that.

    Corder'd been hunching forward slightly; now he straightened in his chair. He was four inches taller than his son; his face was still craggy though his waist had expanded considerably since Daniel last saw him. The Speaker had joint problems, Daniel had heard; you do hear things, even if you're not trying to.

    "And the fact that Cinnabar's a republic and not an Alliance protectorate like Porra tried to buy with the Three Circles Conspiracy," Corder continued in the same hard, certain voice. "That's a Leary's doing too, boy."

    Daniel looked across the table, wondering if he should turn and walk out. The humor of a thought struck him; he barked a laugh.

    "Eh?" said Corder; his tone a question, not a challenge.

    "I'm not in the habit of running away from a fight, sir," Daniel said, grinning beneath the words. "Say what you have to say, and then I'll leave."

    "Aye," Corder said grimly. "We'll both leave, and this meeting won't have happened."

    He spread his big hands flat on the table; the knuckles seemed enlarged. He resumed in the same tone, "Oller Kearnes is my son. Was my son, before Slidell killed him. And Oller being my son is why Slidell killed him—revenge for his brother, you see."

    Daniel let the words dance in his mind as he tried to fit them into a pattern that made sense. He wished Adele was here, for advice and especially for companionship. The idea was so ludicrous that it broke his mood.

    "I don't see at all," Daniel said, with a lilt though not quite open laughter. "Who was Commander Slidell's brother?"

    Corder grimaced. "Jan Slidell was my legislative aide," he said. "I thought I could get him into the Senate in a few years; he might've been useful. But instead he stuck a knife in my back for the Cullert faction."

    Daniel opened his mouth, then closed it again. He didn't even know how to frame a question that would bring him closer to his father's meaning.

    Corder saw and perhaps understood what was going on in Daniel's mind. "All right, you need background," he said harshly. "Bruno Kearnes and I were in partnership to get control of the dyeweed trade from Hise; the Cullert brothers were heading another syndicate. There was a lot of money at stake."

    He looked up sharply. "A lot of money."

    Daniel nodded. He understood that when Corder Leary used the phrase, it meant something very different from the pot of a florin-ante poker game.

    "And . . ." Corder said, knotting his fingers and staring at them. "And I was seeing Lira Kearnes on the side."

    He looked up, glaring at Daniel. "And I don't need a lecture!"

    That's the first anger he's shown tonight. Because he acted like a fool and knows it. . . .

    Daniel said calmly, "You weren't going to get one from me. Go on."

    His father shook his head. "No, I don't suppose I was," he said. "All I can say, boy, is I hope you get it out of your system sooner than I did, because my pecker's got me in more trouble than the Alliance ever thought of doing. Including this time."

    Corder turned his hands palms-up and went on, "It should've been safe enough. I never met Lira except in public or just the two of us together; Slidell made all the arrangements for our meetings, not me. So when it did come out and the Hise arrangements went into the dumper, I knew who'd done it; and I knew how to make sure Jan's pay-off didn't do him any good."

    In a tone of savage gusto he said, "I broke him, boy. I broke him good. He shot himself a few years later, which saved me the trouble of keeping my thumb on him any longer."

    "And you believe Lira Kearnes son—" third son, wasn't it? "—is your offspring?" Daniel said carefully. It was a bloody strange conversation to be having, not least for the fact he and his father were talking, not screaming, at one another.

    "I know Oller's my son," Corder said. "The timing's right, and Bruno Kearnes had his prostate out a year before the boy was born."

    The older man started to get up but winced and settled back on the chair. "I never had anything to do with the boy growing up," he said to his hands again. "I haven't exchanged a word with Bruno since then, not even on the Senate floor. It was a bloody fool thing to have done, but I can't take it back. And now the Slidells have got back at me by killing the boy. Raw murder, and aimed against me."

    And how much did you have to do with me when I was growing up, you arrogant bastard? thought Daniel, his face expressionless. Aloud he said, "I don't believe a respected officer like Commander Slidell would use the RCN as a tool of private vengeance, sir. I know I wouldn't do so myself."

    Corder Leary straightened with a look of fury. This time he managed to lurch to his feet. He'd understood what Daniel was saying—all of what he was saying.

    "Are you saying you're going to let Slidell get away with murdering your own brother, boy?" Corder demanded. "You know you could take care of him quietly when you're in the back of beyond!"

    "I know that I'll not murder a man, sir," Daniel said. He wasn't angry, but he was horrified and suddenly drained. "Not for you, not for the Leary family. Not even for the RCN."

    He'd moved the chair while he was gripping it. Now he set it back in alignment with the table.

    "Good night, sir," Daniel said, turning on his heel. He closed the door behind him as he walked out.

    That was a mistake—the candle within would've lighted the hall to some degree—but he managed not to trip over the occasional table he remembered against the corridor wall. When he reached the entryway, he opened the inner door to the anteroom. The servant was waiting there.

    "Please," she said. "Please, Lieutenant, let me apologize to you."

    She'd thrown back the hood of her cloak. Because Daniel's eyes had adapted, he recognized her even in the dim glow as Maeve Astola herself . . . or at least the woman who'd used that name in The Lower Deck.

    Daniel recoiled. The woman gripped his right hand with hers and said, "He forced me, please believe me. The only choice I had was to go through with the deception or take poison. And as soon as I'd let you in, I knew I'd made the wrong choice. I should've killed myself!"

    Daniel analyzed her words with the things she hadn't said. What hold did Speaker Leary have over her? Any of a hundred things, depending on what the woman was in her heart. And this one seemed to be a decent person. . . .

    "I doubt anything you did would've changed tonight's events, mistress," Daniel said. "He'd have seen to it that I met him at a different address, that's all; no harm done. But if you don't mind I'll take my leave now."

    He didn't add that his father would've carried out whatever threat he'd made. Corder Leary didn't bluff, and he didn't do things halfway.

    "He'll have gone out the back," the woman said, holding him with both hands now. "Please, come upstairs with me. I'm so sorry, so very sorry."

    Daniel stiffened. Do you think I need charity? 

    But the words didn't reach his tongue. He laughed and said, "Mistress—Maeve, if I may call you? Maeve, if it hadn't been for your invitation I've have been attending a party at the Jonas Richelets' tonight. Would you care to come as my guest? And we'll see how the evening develops from there."

    She threw her arms around Daniel, blubbering with relief. Quite a pretty little thing; and seemingly a decent person. . . .

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