by David Drake

To Hank Davis
Fellow writer, fellow Nam vet, fellow lover of pulp SF


Dan Breen is back on the job as my first reader, thank goodness. The remaining mistakes are my fault, but there are significantly fewer of them than there would be without Dan’s help.
Dorothy Day and my webmaster, Karen Zimmerman, archived my texts. I started to write, “I didn’t blow up any computers this time,” and then realized that I haven’t run off the final yet. I hope I don’t have to change this line when I read the proofs.

Incidentally, at least one of the reasons I haven’t blown up a computer (yet) is that I went back to composing longhand when the temperatures got into the Nineties, then typed up the day’s work in the evenings when it was cooler. Another alternative would be air conditioning, but I prefer to avoid that for a number of reasons. I repeatedly had respiratory problems when I worked in a climate-controlled building. Nowadays they recur only when I’m at conventions in climate-controlled hotels.
Dorothy and Evan Ladouceur were (as generally on this series) my continuity checkers. Again, the mistakes are mine; but because of my friends, I fall on my face less often than I otherwise would.
I owe a particular debt to Rana Van Name, who replaced a piece of my own very early childhood. It appears in this novel, but my debt to her goes much deeper than that.
My wife Jo continues to keep the house and yard in shape, and to feed me superbly. I’m not easy to live with, and my focus is generally on the current book. The fact that I live in a clean house is not my own doing, and I appreciate it.
My books would be different and much less good without my friends and family; so would my life. Thank you all.


I learned with the first book of the RCN series, With the Lightnings, that I have to explain that I use English and Metric weights and measures as a convenience to readers, not because I think the same systems will be in use three millennia hence. To me, that went without saying. Here as often, I was wrong.
There are many snatches of song in this novel, as generally in my work. They’re all my paraphrases of real music ranging from The Handsome Cabin Boy to the Carmen Saeculare of Horace. I do this for my own amusement–but people do sing, and I think it gives the work resonance to use pieces that people have sung instead of pieces that I’ve invented.
My fantasies are generally based on folk tales. My science fiction (and this is true of both Military SF and Space Opera) almost always grows from historical events, more often than not from ancient history.
That’s certainly true of In the Stormy Red Sky, where I weave together three separate incidents which took place in the Mediterranean Basin during a five-year period (216 BC to 211 BC):
1) The death of Dionysius II, whose grandson Hieronymos succeeded to the throne of Syracuse.
2) The successful revolt (or coup, if you prefer) of a group of young aristocrats in Tarentum, aided by Hannibal.
3) The successful assault by Scipio (later Scipio Africanus) on the fortress city of Cartagena.
On the face of it these events had nothing in common, but in another sense they’re woven about one another like strands in a sweater. They were aspects of the war which decided who would rule the Mediterranean Basin for the next thousand years.
The unseen impetus of all three situations was the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal’s crushing defeat of a large Roman army in 216 BC. Cannae was the epitome of the decisive battle except in one crucial aspect: it decided nothing, beyond the fact that certain individuals would die that day instead of dying later.
Cannae affected the attitude of the teenaged boy who suddenly became the Tyrant of Syracuse. It affected political calculations within the Greek cities of Southern Italy. It affected the choice of an initial field of operations made by perhaps the best Roman strategist of all time.
What Cannae didn’t do was determine the outcome of the Second Punic War, any more than the Battle of Chancellorsville determined the outcome of the American Civil War.
In history as in life, big events aren’t as important as the way people react to those events. Rome couldn’t go back and undo the mistakes that led to the disaster at Cannae, but the Republic could and did buckle down and deal with the consequences, both good and bad.
I write about people who deal with consequences. I try to be one of those people as well. I don’t hold myself out as a role model generally, but I think the world might be better off if more people accepted responsibility and dealt with consequences.
Dave Drake

And we came to the Isle of Witches and heard their musical cry–
“Come to us, O come, come!” in the stormy red of a sky….
The Voyage of Maeldune
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

CHAPTER 1: Bergen and Associates Shipyard, near Xenos on Cinnabar

“Heart of Steel are our ships!” played the band on the quay. The Bergen and Associates shipyard was decked with bunting and packed with temporary bleachers for this unique occasion. “Heart of Steel are our crews!”
Like Adele Mundy, the twenty-four bandsmen wore the white 1st Class uniforms of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. Unlike Adele, they were used to Dress Whites. She almost never wore them.
“We always are ready!” played the band.
Ordinarily Adele had nothing against great public gatherings in which everybody put on their best clothes and stood around wasting time. She simply found an out-of-the-way corner and amused herself by using her personal data unit to hack into whatever nearby database seemed the most interesting.
She couldn’t do that here, because the ceremony was in honor of her friend Daniel Leary; soon to be Captain Daniel Leary.
“Steady crew, steady!”
The band had been playing marches for twenty minutes, filling time while frantic officials took care of the final details of the ceremony. Adele didn’t pretend to be knowledgeable about music, but she could tell when everybody kept the same time and the notes followed one another in a proper pattern. Both were true here. She frowned, wondering where the musicians came from.
“We’ll fight and we’ll conquer for we never lose!”
Adele carried her PDU in a thigh pocket which she’d insisted on in complete disregard for the uniform regulations. Her fingers twitched toward it, but she restrained them with conscious effort.
Though Daniel wouldn’t mind, others would think that Lady Mundy didn’t respect him. She’d rather die than allow that false notion to spread.
“That’s the Lao-tse’s band, mistress,” said Sun, her long-time shipmate and Daniel’s as well. He was now a senior warrant officer, gunner of a heavy cruiser, as a reward for his loyal service–and because he’d survived. “They was with us in the Jewel System, you remember.”
“Yes, Sun, I do,” Adele said dryly. She wondered how the crew of the battleship Lao-tse would react to the implication that they had accompanied the corvette Princess Cecile during the Battle of the Jewel System.
Though in truth, the Sissie–or at least her captain, Daniel Leary–probably did have more to do with that RCN victory than any other ship present.
A private shipyard like Bergen and Associates ordinarily worked on ships of 1500 tons or less. RCS Milton, a heavy cruiser of 13,000 tons, filled the pool and dwarfed the yard’s equipment. She’d been repaired here not only because of the demands put on RCN facilities by all-out war with the Alliance but also because the ‘Associates’ in the yard’s name was Corder Leary, no longer Speaker but still one of the most powerful members of the Cinnabar Senate.
“We ne’er see our foes but we wish them to stay,” boasted the Lao-tse’s band musically. “They never see us but they wish us away!”
The Milton would lift with a crew of nearly five hundred, a hundred short of establishment but remarkably good when the RCN needed crews worse than it did ships. The spacers were here, packed into corners and angles; standing on the gantries and lining the cruiser’s extended antennas.
“There’s never been anything like this before!” said Woetjans, the Milton’s bosun. She was six and a half feet tall and would’ve been abnormally strong even for a man of her size. Like Sun, she’d risen by following Daniel Leary, but it’d been at Adele’s side that she’d taken three slugs through the chest. Woetjans claimed to have made a complete recovery, but her face, always craggy, now was cadaverous. Sometimes a gray flash seemed to cross her eyes.
“If they run, why we follow them,” played the band, “down to their bases.”
Woetjans was looking at the shipyard offices above the shops. There, sheltered from direct sunlight though the sashes were swung up from the windows, Daniel’s elder sister Deirdre sat with four Senators who were allied with her father. “And nobody bloody deserved it like Six does, neither!”
“For we can’t do more if the cowards won’t face us!” played the band, climaxing the stanza with a flourish before swinging into the chorus again.
Adele’s lips quirked in a tiny, bitter smile. Perhaps she was only projecting her own heart when she thought she saw bleakness in the bosun’s. Adele’s ribs occasionally twinged from a wound in the further past, but if physical injuries had been the worst damage she’d taken in RCN service, she’d have slept better.
“I never dreamed of this,” said Borries, the Chief Missileer. He was a Pellegrinian by birth, but he’d decided not to return to his home world after he survived a battle which took the life of the eldest son of Pellegrino’s dictator. “We’re great men because we’re with Captain Leary. Great men.”
“Woetjans and I might disagree with you,” Adele said with a straight face. The society of outworlds like Pellegrino was more sexist than the norm of the civilized regions ruled by Cinnabar and the Alliance. “About being men, that is.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” Borries muttered, flushing. “I didn’t mean that, truly.”
RCN signals personnel were quite junior. According to the Table of Organization, Adele should have been out on the fringes of the crowd with the common spacers instead of standing beside the dais with the senior warrants.
The crew, however, had insisted she take a higher place than her rank justified. She was Mistress Mundy, Captain Leary’s friend and a real lady. Adele knew that it wasn’t her title, Mundy of Chatsworth, that impressed the spacers but rather herself–or at any rate, her legend.
To hear the crewmen’s stories, Mistress Mundy could learn all a databank’s secrets by looking sideways at it and she could shoot her way through a regiment of Alliance soldiers. Those were gross exaggerations–but there was a core of truth to both statements.
The band swung into a cheerful ditty called The Rocketeers Have Hairy Ears. Spacers in the Milton’s rigging cheered wildly, and both Daniel and Admiral Anston on the low dais grinned.
It struck Adele that Captain Stickel of the Lao-tse had a robust sense of humor. She’d found a number of different versions of the piece involving Engineers, Cannoneers, and Mountaineers. The various lyrics ranged from obscene to absurdly obscene.
Adele looked toward the dignitaries in the office. Daniel’s father wasn’t present. Corder Leary and his teenaged son had broken violently on the day Daniel joined the RCN. The elder Leary had made a great number of enemies in a career focused on gaining wealth and power. In particular, he’d crushed the Three Circles Conspiracy in a series of proscriptions that took the lives of many of Cinnabar’s political elite, their families, and their associates.
No one–no survivor–was willing to deny that the bloody response to treason had been necessary, but afterward even Corder Leary’s closest associates–he had no friends–looked at him askance. He’d had to give up the speakership, though most people still referred to him by the title as a mark of honor and of fear.
Adele had escaped the Proscriptions by the chance of having just left Cinnabar to study in the Academic Collections on Blythe, the intellectual heart of the Alliance of Free Stars. Her parents and ten-year-old sister Agatha had provided three of the heads nailed to Speaker’s Rock in the center of Xenos, however.
Adele’s left hand twitched. The tunic of RCN Whites didn’t have pockets, and she hadn’t added a concealed one for the small pistol she normally carried. Senator Mundy had seen to it that his children became dead shots to prevent the sort of challenges which his political radicalism might otherwise have drawn. The ability to shoot accurately with either hand had benefited Adele in the slums she’d frequented when the Mundy fortune was expropriated during the Proscriptions.
Since she’d met Daniel her pistol had helped him, the RCN, and the Republic of Cinnabar. It had kept Adele alive in difficult circumstances; but when the faces of the dead visited her in the hours before dawn, she wasn’t sure that survival had been a benefit.
She wasn’t wearing the pistol today; and besides, Corder Leary wasn’t present at the ceremony.
She forced herself to relax, smiling faintly. Many people thought that Adele Mundy was emotionless. She worked to conceal her emotions and she certainly didn’t let them rule her actions, but they existed. Until she’d met Daniel and become a part of the RCN family, the main emotion she’d felt was red fury. Courtesy alone would’ve made her conceal that to the degree she could.
Daniel caught Adele’s eye and grinned more widely. She thought it was the first time she’d seen him looking comfortable in the closely tailored Dress Whites. Daniel was fit, but he tended to put on a few pounds if he didn’t watch himself. The rounds of dinners and parties which Xenos offered to a naval hero on leave would’ve made temperance difficult for even someone less sociable than the dashing young Commander Leary.
His 1st Class uniform fit now because Miranda Dorst, standing with her mother in the front of the crowd facing the dais, was an accomplished seamstress among her other talents. Daniel had never lacked for female company, though he’d had high standards: his companions had to be very young, very pretty, and very intellectually challenged. They’d generally lasted a day–more often a night–and Daniel never even pretended he was going to remember their names.
Miranda was young enough. Her brother Timothy had been one of Daniel’s midshipmen before his duties put him in the way of a 20-cm plasma bolt from the cruiser Scheer, before its capture and commissioning into the RCN. It was now the Milton, towering above the ceremony.
Miranda wasn’t strikingly attractive, though Adele had noticed that she became oddly beautiful when she was in Daniel’s company. It was as if she were a silvered reflector behind Daniel’s brilliant flame.
And unlike the bimbos who’d preceded her, Miranda Dorst appeared to be very clever indeed. Her brother had been a fine officer: brave, well-liked, and equipped with an instinct that took him to the throat of an enemy. He’d have risen high in the RCN, had he survived.
Intellectually, though…. Well, the best that could be said was that Midshipman Dorst studied very hard and that his personality encouraged others to give him all the help they could. It was unscientific, but anyone who’d met both siblings had to wonder if the sister had gotten a double share of intelligence.
Adele let her eyes return to the crowd facing the dais, though her mind was still on her friend Daniel. She was smiling as widely as she ever did. He was a reasonably good-looking fellow of average height. He was young for a full commander, and soon he’d be the youngest captain on the Navy House list. You’d see nothing special in an image of him, not even a three dimensional hologram.
In person, Daniel gave the impression of being twice his real size. His engaging smile lighted a room, and if he’d chosen to make women a business rather than a hobby, he’d have lived very well.
Adele had always been alone before she’d met Daniel Leary. Since then she had gained Daniel as a friend, and through him the companionship not only the ship’s company he commanded but also the whole RCN. She had a real family, in a fashion that the politically focused Mundys had never been to a studious girl like Adele.
The Lao-tse’s band was trooping off the quay, playing a What Do You Do With a Drunken Spacer. Replacing them were young men and women, ten of each in parallel files, wearing white shirts and black trousers. They wore shoes as well, but from their awkwardness Adele suspected that for some it was the first time they’d put on any footgear but shapeless farm boots.
It was a cool day, but the newcomers were sweating profusely. Adele smiled in rare sympathy. She’d felt lost and out of place many times in her life, so she could easily identify with these poor folk.
She wasn’t lost any more: she was a member of the RCN.
Adele looked up at the yard offices where Corder Leary would have been had he attended the ceremony. If that cold, brutal man hadn’t had her parents and sister murdered, Adele Mundy would never have found the RCN and the place in the universe where she fit.
She didn’t believe in Gods or fate or even purpose in any real sense. But sometimes it puzzled Adele to see how very unpredictable the consequences of an event could be.