Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 31

“Where’s the station?” Adele said aloud.

“In the basement, but the files are all locked,” Yvette said. “I have the key to the communications console, though.”

“Thank you,” Adele said. The electronic files wouldn’t have been a problem even if Grozhinski hadn’t given her the keys, but there was no reason to tell the wife that. “Hale, I’ll take a look at the equipment. Then I’ll probably have you stay here while I return to the Sissie and discuss the matter with Daniel. Oh, and I’ll have an ambulance sent here to pick up Mignouri. Mistress Mignouri, you’d better pack a case. Whether you go with your husband or not, you can’t stay here any longer.”

“Right, mistress,” Hale said. She braced to attention unconsciously.

“You can’t walk in here and do that!” said Yvette.

“Mistress,” said Lady Mundy, speaking with the icy certainty that her mother would have displayed in similar circumstances. “I am here at the behest of your husband’s superior’s highest superior. You have nothing to say to me but ‘Yes sir!’ And if you’re wise, you might add, ‘And thank you for not shooting me for treason, sir.'”

Yvette’s mouth fell open.

Tovera had opened the door under the stairs. Adele strode to it.

Behind her Evans said plaintively, “Bledsoe, are we supposed to shoot this lady?”

* * *

“Good evening, gentlemen,” Daniel said, speaking clearly and without the need of amplification to be heard by his audience of the forty-odd officers and non-coms. “I am Captain Leary. The Minister of War has put me in command of the Nabis Contingent of the Forces of the Tarbell Stars.”

Daniel had changed into clean utilities with RCN rank tabs and his saucer hat for this introduction. It was the garb he would have worn on the bridge of the Princess Cecile when she was in RCN service, though on larger ships officers were expected to be in 2nd Class uniforms.

All the officers before him were men, which was the usual case in the military on planets at such a distance from the centers of civilization. Gender discrimination wasn’t unheard of even on lesser worlds in the Cinnabar and Alliance spheres. It was one more excuse for residents of Cinnabar and the core worlds of the Alliance to consider their subjects from the fringes to be higher animals rather than real human beings.

“Minister Robin put me in charge because he wants the Nabis Contingent raised to the level of the RCN,” Daniel said, keeping his tone informal. His audience had been nervous at the start, but there was nothing in his delivery to worry them further. “That’s going to be a change, as some of you have already learned.”

He smiled gently as he looked across his ranked audience. A dozen of those facing him were not in full uniform, and one was wearing pajamas. Further, some were the worse for drink. They hadn’t all been on duty at the time Daniel called the meeting; but most had, or should have been.

“Now, a spacer is a spacer,” Daniel said. “There’s good ones and bad ones, but the RCN isn’t great because our crews come from Cinnabar — which mostly they don’t. What makes a military force great is the quality of its officers, commissioned and warrant both. That means you.”

He smiled again. This time his expression wasn’t so friendly.

“You’re going to come up to RCN standards,” Daniel said. “Then you and I together are going to turn the Nabis Contingent into the finest fighting force in the Tarbell Stars.”

Only two of the commissioned officers and half a dozen of the non-coms — warrant officers and sergeants depending on the service — had been at their duty stations or in their official residences. The spacers’ ground billets and the Regiment’s barracks were filthy.

The reason the personnel were here facing Daniel was that Cory had located them using a console on the Princess Cecile. Adele had apparently connected the databases and communications networks in Newtown — and probably throughout Peltry — to the Sissie. Knowing that wouldn’t have helped Daniel himself very much, but to Adele’s protégés it was as good as a street map to the missing officers. Teams of military police backed by two or three Sissies each had brought the officers to the parade square between the Nabis barracks and the Katchaturian’s berth.

Angry bluster probably wouldn’t have gotten Nabis citizens very far with military police, none of whom were from that until-recently independent planet. It got nowhere at all with the Sissies, nor did any claimed rank that wasn’t in the RCN.

“You’re going to train…” said Daniel, raising his voice slightly to override the sudden buzz of voices. “By performing as common spacers under officers of the RCN. On Cinnabar, RCN spacer is a respected position. That’s because every citizen knows that the RCN is a collection of the best.”

Vesey and Major Berners, the Minister’s representative, stood to Daniel’s left. Woetjans was on his right, but a pace back out of the bosun’s own sense of decorum.

Hogg stood at the side of the square along with common spacers from the Sissie and the Katchaturian; both ships were moored in the same slip. Hogg had wanted to be closer to Daniel, but the whole point of this address was to create a dichotomy between the military and civilians.

The best way to weld the two crews into a single fighting force was to give them third parties on whom they both could look down: mere civilians. Daniel wasn’t a philosopher. He didn’t try to reform human nature, he just used whatever aspects he could when they helped him toward a goal.

“Now, you’re going to train as hard as you need to come up to RCN standards,” Daniel said. “It’s not going to be a picnic. You’ll take orders from whoever your officers — my officers — put in charge of you, and you’ll learn to jump when you do it. That means –”

“How dare you?” said a man as he pushed his way forward from the third row. “How dare you, you Cinnabar ponce!”

“You’re Lieutenant Feilson, I believe,” Daniel said pleasantly. He adjusted his stance slightly.

“I bloody well am!” Feilson said. He was properly dressed — but in a civilian suit of good quality rather than the uniform he should have worn as the duty officer of the Katchaturian. “I’m an officer of the Fleet and a gentleman of Pleasaunce. If you think some yob from Cinnabar is going to give me orders, you’re bloody wrong!”

“Get back in line, Master Feilson,” Daniel said, his voice still friendly. “You’re on duty and I’m your commanding –”

Feilson was a little taller than Daniel and in good condition; he swung for Daniel’s jaw. Daniel blocked the fist with his open left hand. Instead of counter-punching as he normally would have done, Daniel shoved the Pleasaunce officer backward.

“An officer of the RCN doesn’t brawl with his crew,” Daniel said, trying to sound a little bored. He wanted to shake the sting out of his left hand, but he controlled the urge; Feilson had been stronger than Daniel expected. “Master Feilson, you have –”

Feilson cocked his arm to swing again. Woetjans caught him by the neck and jerked him aside. Feilson got out a one squawk before the bosun slapped him with her right hand. She could drive nails with her callused palms.

Feilson’s eyes glazed; Woetjans tossed him to Barnes and Dasi. They dragged the unconscious man away.

“As I was about to say,” Daniel continued to the remainder of his audience, “Master Feilson has chosen to resign rather than become a real officer. At this moment you all have the option of resigning. I don’t know or care what your obligations to the Tarbell Stars may be. If you’re not willing to become an officer who I can respect, I want no part of you.”

“Does she beat the crap outa us if we quit now?” said a scarred, wiry man of fifty in the front row. He wore utilities but the rank tabs were on the underside of his collar.

Daniel didn’t recognize the fellow by name from the briefing materials, but he didn’t need to. “No, she doesn’t,” Daniel said, “but I hope you don’t quit anyway. Senior warrant officers with the balls to speak up aren’t thick on the ground around here. What’s your specialty, spacer?”

The little man braced to attention. “Gunner Gabriel Wright, sir!” he said. “Late of the Fleet, late of a lot of other places that needed somebody who knew how to make a plasma cannon sing!”

“At ease, Wright,” Daniel said. “Do you know how to take orders too?”

“Yes sir,” Wright said. “Even if I think the guy giving ’em is about two brain cells short of being a moron. As I did Lieutenant Feilson, sir.”

“I’ll hope I measure up to your standards when the time comes, Wright,” Daniel said.

His expression sobered as he looked at his audience again.

“Gentlemen,” Daniel said, “I’ve told you that you’ll learn to be officers under me, and that’s important. But this is your chance to learn something even better. I’m giving you a chance to be part of an elite combat unit. Until you’ve felt that, you can’t imagine what it’s like. You trust your fellows and they trust you, because you know every one of you will do his job.”

Daniel felt his throat getting husky as it always did when he thought about this. He continued, “You’ll have trained with the Sissies and you’ll be as good as the Sissies, and there’s no better in the human universe than my Sissies.”

Daniel swallowed. “Gentlemen, I’m going to dismiss you for an hour,” he said. “After that, you’ll assemble again and we’ll enroll you in the new Nabis Contingent, all of you who’ve got the balls.”

He grinned and said, “Which I hope a lot of you do, because we’ve got a real fight ahead with the Upholders. Dismissed!”