A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 21

Still, it had raised the security issues an order of magnitude. None of the King’s Own liked it. Sergeant Herzog had been especially loud on the subject, fuming over the stupidity inherent in telling potential assassins exactly where to find the entire flipping royal family, in one sinkable spot, for what amounted to a flipping publicity stunt.

What made it worse was that whatever PR advantages the king had hoped for were going to be largely negated by the security requirements. Most of the citizens who’d come out for the procession had gotten up at the crack of dawn in order to get here. A lot of them had rousted their children out of bed for the occasion, which in Bozwell’s opinion was on a par with winning a space battle all by itself.

They weren’t happy at being told to head back to Landing or get themselves a minimum of five kilometers away from the Samantha’s route. Bozwell wasn’t any happier at being the one who had to deliver those orders.

But at least the job was almost done. Only five more boats were still within the safety zone, and two of them were in the Argus’s patrol area. Three more unpleasant confrontations for Bozwell and the Jackstraw, and they could move on to straight perimeter patrol.

Unfortunately, this next encounter was likely to be one of the more aggravating ones. The Happily Ever was a big boat, a sailing cabin cruiser of the kind favored by people who weren’t necessarily rich but wanted everyone to think they were. In Bozwell’s experience, most of that sort liked to project that same elitist attitude toward everyone around them, including authority figures.

This one was certainly playing the nouveau riche role to the hilt. As the Jackstraw approached, Bozwell could see a half dozen figures lounging in deck chairs on the fantail. Right at the stern, nestled against the low railing, were a cooler full of ice and colorful drink cans and a squat grill loaded with freshly-caught fish. The wind shifted momentarily, bringing Bozwell a whiff of the smoke from the grill: Graeling sea trout, he tentatively identified it, with way too much spice sauce for that kind of fish.

All six boaters were watching the Jackstraw now as it cut through the water toward them. One of the men, Bozwell noted, had a particularly apprehensive expression. That must be the owner, listed in the records as a Mr. Basil Moore, wondering if his precious boat was about to be rammed.

Luckily for him, the Jackstraw’s helmsman knew his business. At the last second the cutter’s engines shifted into reverse, bringing the vessel to a smooth halt. A final twitch of the wheel, and the cutter ended up angled a meter off the Happily Ever’s stern. If Moore wasn’t impressed, Bozwell thought, he really ought to be.

“Ahoy!” he called as he stepped out of the wheelhouse onto the Jackstraw’s deck. “Sorry to bother you, but –”

“What the hell are you doing?” Moore cut him off angrily. Not impressed, apparently. “You trying to run us down?”

“Not at all, sir,” Bozwell said, keeping his tone the respectful politeness required by the CG manual. “We’re clearing out this sea lane in preparation for the Samantha’s crossing later this morning. I’m afraid I have to ask you to move away.”

Most of the people Bozwell had talked to this morning had reacted with surprise, disappointment, or annoyance. Moore reacted like a rich kid with a new toy. “Like hell you are,” he bit out. “This is Jason Bay. It belongs to everyone on Manticore. The King wants to go for a cruise? Fine — he can have one boat’s width of space, just like everyone else.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, sir,” Bozwell said. The rest of Moore’s party, he noted peripherally, were starting to look uncomfortable. One of the women, sitting directly behind her host, quietly and discreetly moved to a chair farther out of any potential lines of fire. Apparently, Moore had something of a temper. “And under normal circumstances, you would indeed have claim to freedom of the seas. But not today.”

“Really?” Moore scoffed. “What makes today so special? Because a bunch of pampered politicians and stuffed uniforms want to burn a few extra tanks of hydrogen just so they can have lunch sixty kilometers from the great unwashed public?”

“No, sir,” Bozwell said, really regretting that the manual’s rules of conduct were so specific. “Today is special because there are extra safety considerations.”

“Oh, safety is the issue, now?” Moore demanded. “Fine. Let me tell you about safety.” He waved a hand in a wide, sweeping arc. “We’ve been watching you. There was a nice, compact group of boats out here, and you’ve spent the last hour or so scattering them to the four winds. Now, what happens if one of them has a problem? What if one of them starts to sink? Will you or your buddy be able to get there in time? Or are you just going to hope and pray that they have enough counter-grav belts for everyone and don’t get dumped into the water before they can activate them?”

“We appreciate the risks involved whenever someone takes a watercraft out onto the high seas,” Bozwell said. He could feel a subtle vibration in the deck beneath his feet: the measured pace of heavy footsteps coming his way from the wheelhouse. “But we can only do what we can with the limited resources we have.”

“So what you’re saying is –?”

“Beg pardon, Lieutenant,” a deep voice interrupted.

And out of the corner of his eye Bozwell saw Sergeant Brian VanHoose step from the wheelhouse.

Only out of the corner, because most of his attention was focused on Moore.

He wasn’t disappointed. The majority of Sphinxians were by nature and necessity big people, but even on that scale VanHoose was a big Sphinxian. As he hove into view Moore’s eyes went wide, and he started to take a reflexive step back before he caught himself. His eyes flicked up and down VanHoose’s bulk, finally settling on the deadpan face and half-lidded eyes that fooled people into thinking there wasn’t a lot going on behind them.

Which was always a mistake. VanHoose might look like a genial giant idiot, but he had a knowledge of regs and orders that was second to none.

“Yes, Sergeant?” Bozwell said blandly. “You have a thought?”

“It seems to me, Sir, that the gentlemen and his companions have been drinking,” VanHoose said, just as blandly. “Reg gamma-four-oh-six, subsection three, paragraph four, says that if a boater is impaired the Coast Guard is required to take possession of his or her vessel and bring it safely into port.”

“I do believe you’re right, Sergeant,” Bozwell said, frowning in thought. “Well, I’m sure that won’t be a problem. I can handle the rest of the security sweep on my own while you bring the Happily Ever back to Landing.”

Moore finally found his voice. “Wait a second,” he said, a hint of nervousness starting to crack his arrogance. “No one’s impaired here.”

“I don’t know,” Bozwell said, eyeing the cooler. “I see a lot of beer in there. Sergeant, do the regs specify how much alcohol is required for impairment?”

“We could break out the breath analyzer,” VanHoose said. “But you know it’s been on the fritz lately.”

“Besides, alcohol affects people in so many different ways,” Bozwell pointed out. “If I let you take command of this vessel, will you promise to be more careful than the last time?”

“Hey, that fireball wasn’t my fault,” VanHoose protested. “The tank regulator was cracked. If I hadn’t bumped the dock it would have just gone kablooie somewhere else.”

“Bumped?” Bozwell echoed. “Is that what you call it? Bumped?” He lifted his hands. “Never mind — we don’t have time for this. Sergeant Brian VanHoose, as per Regulation whatever it was, I authorize you to –”

“Okay, okay,” Moore said quickly. “We’ll go.”

“In good time, right?” Bozwell said.

“As fast as we can,” Moore promised, his face looking like an angry sea.

“Good,” Bozwell said. “Sergeant, take us to the next vessel, please. Good day, Mr. Moore.”

A minute later the Jackstraw had left the Happily Ever’s side and was speeding through the low waves toward the next boat in line.

Speeding just a tad too quickly, perhaps.

“You realize,” Bozwell said, peering aft through the wheelhouse door at the Happily Ever rapidly receding in the distance, “that you dumped their entire fantail when you took off.”

“No big loss,” VanHoose said, waving a hand in dismissal. “That was about the cheapest cooler on the market — I’ve got one myself; they’re only a couple of dollars. And they’ve already had enough beer.”

Bozwell took another look behind him at Moore, frantically digging into the water off the stern of his yacht. VanHoose was right — the cooler had been a cheap foam job, and a man at Moore’s level of snobbery really needed to upgrade. “And the grill?”

“Too much sauce on the trout,” VanHoose declared. “I did everyone a favor.”

“Ah,” Bozwell said. Somehow, he doubted Moore would see it that way.

0900 Sunday

Embarkation for the Monarch’s Thanks two hours away.

Passage into the Triton Island approach four hours away.

“Bravo-six clear,” a muffled voice came in Sergeant Sara Felton’s earpiece. “Moving on to Bravo-seven.”

“Copy,” Sara said. Back in the old days, the odd thought struck her, her voice had sounded exceedingly strange to her as it bounced back from a diving helmet’s faceplate. Now, after ten years of service, she didn’t even notice.

Which was just as well, because right now she needed every gram of brainpower focused on the job at hand. At last report, Triton Island and Landing were secure, and the sea lane between the two was rapidly becoming so.

Time for the area beneath the surface to be likewise.

“Sara?” the voice of Sara’s cousin, B.A., came in her ear. “How’s it going?”

“We’re getting there,” Sara said. Out in the world, of course, they had to be Major Felton and Sergeant Felton to each other, which was a never-ending source of private amusement among their fellow teammates. On a private com like this, they could be more informal. “The approach line has been checked and cleared, and we’re about three-quarters done with the rest of the seabed. How about you?”

“We found a bird’s nest in one of the chimneys,” B.A. said. “Aside from that, we’re good.”

Sara grunted into her helmet. “Good thing Herzog’s not there. Someone would be in for a coal-raking.”

“Agreed. Maybe I’ll mention it to him next week. It can be entertaining when he spins up.”

“As long as you’re not the one he’s spinning up on,” Sara said. “Tell me again why they couldn’t just have lunch at the Palace?”

“It’s politics,” B.A. said. “The King needs to get out and show that he’s not afraid of anything. And, by extension, that no one else should be afraid of anything, either.”

Sara wrinkled her nose. But he was probably right. Grand gestures were part of high office, and King was as high as anyone could get. “I just hope everyone appreciates it.”

“The ones who matter do,” B.A. assured her. “The rest probably never even notice us.”

“Part of our job.”

“Yep,” B.A. agreed. “Listen, do me a favor, will you? One of the approach sensors seems to be winking a little. When you finish your current sector, will you go take a look? It’s probably nothing, but I’d feel better if you checked it out personally.”

Sara smiled as she tapped for a readout. “No problem, Cuz. Number 44?”

“That’s the one,” B.A. confirmed.

Ten minutes later, Sara was at the problem sensor.

“Well, for starters it’s leaning sideways,” she reported as she hovered beside the slender two-meter-tall rod-and-bulb device sticking up from the sea floor. “About forty degrees off vertical. I don’t see any damage to the bulb or signs of tampering, though. Probably just got pushed over by crawlers digging into a grub nest.”

“Probably,” B.A. agreed, sounding a bit doubtful. “We’ll swap it out anyway. I’m sending Keating down with a new one — she’s suiting up now. Wait there until she arrives and help her install and network it.”

“Right,” Sara said, shifting her light to the next sensor in the lane. “Let me know when she’s in the water. I’m going to give the next couple in line a quick look.”

Sara hadn’t found any other problems in the sensor line by the time PFC Bridget Keating arrived. Together they swapped out the sensor, networked the replacement with the others, and ran a quick diagnostic. Once B.A. confirmed the system was back to full green, Keating headed back to shore and Sara returned to her check of the Triton Island shallows.

B.A. was right, Sara knew as she resumed her part of the search. If all went well, most of the people who would soon be boarding the Samantha would never be aware of the work that had gone into keeping them safe.