Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 10


Bergen and Associates Yard, outside Xenos

Daniel eyed the Princess Cecile in her slip and felt the usual rush of…well, love was the best word he could come up with. He smiled at Lieutenant Vesey and said, “The first time I saw her, she was passing overhead and shooting off fireworks in a parade on Kostroma. That was probably the only sort of action she’d have seen if she’d stayed in Kostroman hands.”

“I came out of the Academy…” Vesey said. She was also looking at the corvette. Her eye might have been more critical, but it was affectionate also. “Thinking that unit-body construction was so much stronger than modular that no one in her right mind would use modular construction for a warship.”

She grinned at Daniel. “A voyage on the Sissie convinced me that I’d been wrong,” she said.

Because the Princess Cecile was a private yacht in this commission, she was being fitted out and stocked by civilians. Vesey, Daniel’s long-time First Lieutenant, was waiting for dry stores to arrive from the suppliers she had chosen with only cursory oversight by the owner and captain.

Foodstuffs would have to wait for Chazanoff and his crew of missileers to finish striking down the main armament. The Sissie carried two missiles in her launch tubes and twenty reloads when her magazines were full. A corvette couldn’t put out the volume of metal that a larger warship could, but a direct hit from a five-ton projectile at terminal velocity would wreck even a battleship.

The chance of a corvette’s missile getting through a battleship’s defensive armament was very slim: a bolt from an 8″ plasma cannon vaporized enough of a projectile to shove the rest of it off in a harmless direction. Even so, a skilled missileer — or a lucky one — even in a corvette was a threat. Daniel was both skilled and lucky.

“How’s the crew coming along?” Vesey asked.

The question — from Vesey — meant more than the words themselves; but it was a polite way to ask, and there was no reason not to give her the full background. Daniel smiled until the lengthy crash crash crash of missiles rolling from a lowboy into the Princess Cecile’s magazine hatch had died away.

“I’ve got Rene in the office to take the names of any latecomers,” Daniel said, “but we’re already staffed at war complement and maybe a little beyond.”

He said “Rene” instead of “Midshipman, Passed Lieutenant, Cazelet” because on the ground Vesey and Cazelet lived together. Cazelet had come to the Sissie as Adele’s protégé, but he had from the first been an asset to the ship and to the RCN generally. With the present peacetime reduction in the RCN establishment he might have a very long wait before he got the lieutenant’s commission which his abilities amply justified, but the prize money which had come the way of Daniel’s crews meant that Cazelet was better off than many senior officers who didn’t have family money.

“Rene said that you’d accepted some applicants who hadn’t been on the Princess Cecile herself,” Vesey said. “The Milton had the complement of a heavy cruiser.”

Daniel’s grin went hard. Not all of the Milton’s crew had survived the battle above Cacique, of course, but far more had than a corvette could carry.

“Of course, you can afford the paybill, sir,” Vesey said, embarrassed to have pushed for what had not been volunteered. “I’m not prying.”

“I’m at fault for not being more honest with my officers,” Daniel said, a polite way to say that he expected her to talk with Cazelet. “I’m signing extra personnel now in case some want to leave when we make landfall on Jardin. I’ll arrange passage back to Cinnabar for them, of course.”

Vesey frowned, but she didn’t ask why he thought they might lose more than the usual few spacers who might overstay liberty because they were jail, in hospital, or dead.

“As soon as we’re in orbit,” Daniel said, “I’m going to explain that I expect the Princess Cecile to take a contract as a mercenary warship in the navy of the Tarbell Stars. I won’t expect personnel who signed on for a honeymoon voyage to accept a posting to a civil war.”

Vesey’s frown didn’t change. “You’re concerned,” she said in a deliberate voice, “that spacers who’ve served with you are going to balk when you tell them that you may be taking them into battle?”

“Put that way it does sound pretty silly,” Daniel admitted. “Still, I think they ought to have the choice.”

A gondola marked McKimmon Cereals had arrived at the entrance to the yard. The driver of the tractor pulling it had gotten out of his cab to continue his discussion with Midshipman Hale from the ground.

He might as well have stayed where he was. Shouting in Hale’s face wasn’t going to make her change her mind, and the train of lowboys hauling missiles was in the way regardless.

People like to think that their convenience is important. Daniel had found that as a general rule the universe didn’t agree, and that other human beings tended to be a subset of ‘the universe’ in this regard.

“I think the crew expected that they were signing on for more than a honeymoon cruise,” Vesey said, looking toward the cereals vehicle and then away: it would come when it came, and she would check the supplies in when they arrived. “With the exception of Pasternak I think they’re all hoping for action again. And Pasternak was probably the first to sign on.”

Vesey had mousy hair, an excellent mind, and an earnest personality. Her features were unremarkable, but they were sharpening as she aged. Surprisingly that added character and made her more attractive.

“Pretty close,” Daniel agreed. “I’m lucky to have him. We’re all lucky.”

Chief Engineer Pasternak was a quiet man with the skill and seniority to run the Power Room of a battleship at a much higher base pay. He would have been subordinate to a commissioned officer on a large warship, however, whereas Daniel left him to his job.

The fact that he had earned a fortune in prize money as a senior warrant officer under Daniel Leary seemed to bemuse Pasternak From what he had said, though, it was very important to his wife that he was the richest and most important man in Wassail County. The risk that came with being Chief Engineer to a fighting captain was for Pasternak far outweighed by his freedom from the social demands of staying home.

“I saw Lady Leary come on board yesterday,” Vesey said. “Is that really all her luggage?”

“Mistress Leary,” Daniel corrected mildly. “I’m not the heir, thank heavens, and I’m sure my father feels the same way. And yes, Miranda insisted on packing like a midshipman. I told her she had all the volume she wanted — I’d land a missile if I needed to and pick one up for ready money on route to Peltry, that’s the Tarbell capital.”

“A strong willed woman,” Vesey said, looking toward the gate and speaking without emphasis. “I suppose she’d need to be.”

“I suppose she would,” Daniel agreed.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about that — how he felt about Miranda or even about marriage. He’d always taken his duties seriously, but he’d lived his personal life at his own convenience. Over the years since Daniel met Miranda when he delivered the news of her brother’s death, he’d found that he was happier with her presence in his life. Keeping her there imposed reciprocal obligations, not because Miranda demanded them but because he was a Leary of Bantry and honor demanded them.