IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 16:

Daniel settled himself into the command console of the RCS Milton for his first liftoff as her captain. He listened for a moment to the sounds which filled the cruiser.

Starships were never quiet. The life-support system alone involved many hundreds of pumps, fans, and valves working through miles of ducts and piping. Add the electronics, the flows of reaction mass feeding plasma thrusters for use in an atmosphere and the High Drive which more efficiently combined matter and antimatter in vacuum, and the crew itself, there was a background that made it hard to talk across a compartment in a normal voice. Five hundred human beings breathing in a steel box stirred an echoing windstorm all by itself.
Daniel touched the virtual keyboard, sequencing the holographic screen from a systems schematic, through an astrogation display, the Plot-Position Indicator, and finally an attack board. Finally he returned to the schematic.
The keyboard was projected over a fascia plate which had a roughened surface; the Sissie’s console had been smooth when new and by now was worn to minute dips and rises by the touch of Daniel’s fingers. He grinned. Adele had told him that he typed as though he thought his fingers were pummeling the ship into obedience.
Well, the technique had served him well thus far. If the fascia proved a real problem, one of Pasternak’s technicians would either grind it smooth or fill the indentations with hull sealant. It wouldn’t be a problem, though.
“Command Group, this is Six,” Daniel said, verbally directing his commo helmet’s AI to open a channel to the cruiser’s commissioned and warrant officers. “We’ll be lifting off shortly. Chief of Ship, do you have anomalies to report, over?”
A line of miniature heads, real-time images, appeared at the top of his display. If Daniel wanted, he could dispense with the images or have them float around the interstices of the schematics instead of squashing the main display down slightly. He liked having the faces in his peripheral vision, though he almost never looked directly at them.
There were many more faces than he was used to. As with the fascia plate, that would become normal soon.
“Sir, the flows are normal and all the hatches say they’re sealed,” said Pasternak. “I won’t learn better till we’re in vacuum and then I figure I’ll learn, I’ve never taken a ship up first time after an overhaul that some bloody thing wasn’t wrong. But not yet. Five out.”
“Chief of Rig, anything to report, over?” Daniel said.
“Squared away, Six,” Woetjans said. She sounded like she had a mouthful of gravel. “Rig out.”
Daniel smiled at the contrast between the two chiefs. It was almost a given that on a ship the size of the Milton, some clamp or joint of the new rigging would fracture under the vibration and stresses of the first liftoff. The bosun felt that she could fix whatever happened, though she knew there’d be failures; whereas the Chief Engineer felt there’d be failures, though he knew he’d be able to fix them.
Daniel was convinced that they were both as good at their jobs as any other pair in the RCN. He had to admit that he preferred Woetjans’ attitude, though.
He glanced toward his left side, where Adele sat at the signals console with her back to him. She and Pasternak had a good deal in common; but in her case, Daniel knew there was nobody who could claim to be her equal.
The bridge of the Milton was larger than that of the Princess Cecile, though the compartments were much closer in size than the ships were. The corvette needed the same consoles–command, astrogation, missiles, gunnery, and signals–as a heavy cruiser. Each of the Milton’s stations was back-to-back with a full display for a striker rather than the Sissie’s jumpseats with rudimentary controls, and there was more space between the cruiser’s stations. Still, the volume was doubled rather greater by an order of magnitude.
Daniel had rotated the command console to face the stern. Sun and Adele, gunnery and signals, were to starboard. Sun was backed by a technician named Ragi Sekaly, who’d held the rating of gunner’s mate on a destroyer. Sekaly had technically been senior to Sun on the Navy House books, but a ship’s captain had authority to promote any qualified spacer into an empty slot.
There were RCN officers–most officers, truth to tell–who expected a gift of the subordinate’s first month’s wages in exchange for the promotion, but Daniel didn’t need the money. Indeed, he hadn’t thought much about money even when he had needed it, a matter of some irritation to Hogg in past years.
Sun was skilled, trustworthy, and a companion from Daniel’s first cruise in command of the Princess Cecile. The Learys expected loyalty from their tenants, but they gave loyalty in return. A good principle on the Bantry estate continued to be a good one when applied to the company of an RCN warship.
Nearest the command console on the port side was astrogation, where Lieutenant Vesey was working on a course projection. Daniel could’ve echoed it to see what course it was–or asked her, for that matter–but it didn’t matter.
He doubted that Vesey was plotting their route to Paton and Karst, since she would’ve done that days ago when she’d learned the cruiser’s mission. More likely she was preparing in case Captain Leary decided abruptly to raid some base in the heart of the Alliance, perhaps even the Castle System itself. It had happened before; and Vesey, while not a fighting officer with an instinct for the enemy’s weakness, could be counted on to do anything that allowed her time for prediction.
Midshipman Cazelet sat on the mirror side of Vesey’s station, observing her plot but not involved in it. He’d been Adele’s, well, protégé, one would have to call him: a youth who’d fled to her from the Alliance because she owed a similar debt to his grandmother.
Daniel hadn’t hesitated when Adele asked him to give Cazelet a midshipman’s slot. Daniel had been impressed by Cazelet’s skills when the fellow had travelled as Adele’s assistant on the previous voyage; and anyway, he’d have backed Adele’s judgment even if he’d disagreed with it. Adele was a Leary, now, for all she was Mundy of Chatsworth. The Learys took care of their own.
Vesey and Cazelet had spent some of their off-duty time together. Daniel didn’t consider that any of his business–another way in which he differed from many RCN captains–unless it affected performance.
That had been a problem with Vesey in the past, and not simply involving her personal relationships. Though a crackerjack officer in most respects, Vesey had a tendency to hammer herself when things didn’t go to plan. Most matters involving human beings and the cosmos generally went off the rails at some point, and when they did they were likely to take Vesey along with them.
Still, if Cazelet managed to avoid getting killed the way Vesey’s fiancé had been, it ought to be all right. The trouble was, violent death was a common hazard of wearing an RCN uniform.