IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 43:

CHAPTER 12: Hegemony Harbor on Karst

Daniel hadn’t changed out of his Whites when he reached the Milton. There’d have been time and his Grays were technically sufficient as well as being more comfortable and practical, but it was just possible that the greater formality would help when he met the Hydriotes shortly.

“Captain Leary!” said Senator Forbes, storming past the Marines at the bridge hatchway. They didn’t so much admit her as ignore her presence the way they did air flowing through the ship’s environmental system. “Instead of dealing with this insult to the Republic, you’ve given the crew liberty! I want you to take me back to Cinnabar at once. At once, do you hear?”
“Your Excellency,” Daniel said, rising politely from the command console. Forbes had changed in her compartment; Senatorial robes and the buskins she wore with them were impossible in the tight confines of a warship.
Robinson–still in his 1st Class uniform–had followed the Senator with tight lips and a worried grimace. The poor fellow was between a rock and a hard place: sure he would either offend either his great-aunt or his captain. He’d demonstrated in the Angouleme Palace that he was an RCN officer first, but he wouldn’t have any better idea of Daniel’s plans than the Senator did. And certainly if you didn’t know where those plans were going, the first stage–calling Vesey from the aircar and telling her to give the starboard watch three hours liberty–must look so perverse as to be insane if it weren’t instead treasonous.
Daniel glanced around him. Rather than key the intercom, he raised his voice and said, “Clear the bridge! Only Senator Forbes and Officer Mundy are to remain. Move it, spacers!”
The RCN personnel, Robinson included, reacted immediately. Borries looked as though he might have said something, but Vesey gripped him firmly by the shoulder as she went past and turned him toward the hatch.
“What’s this?” said Forbes, startled but no longer evidently furious.
Rather than answer her, Daniel said in a much harsher tone, “Hogg, that means you and Tovera too. Out, and close the hatch behind you.”
Hogg shrugged and obeyed. Tovera gave Daniel a sardonic grin as she followed, or anyway he thought she did. It’s generally a mistake to anthropomorphize the behavior of reptiles, though. Regardless, Hogg closed the hatch as directed.
“Your Excellency,” Daniel said, “this is between the three of us as Cinnabar citizens. I apologize in advance for any seeming discourtesy. If I didn’t respect you, you wouldn’t be here.”
Adele had rotated the seat of her console so that she faced him and Forbes in the center of the compartment. Her eyes were on the display of the little data unit in her lap, however.
“Leary,” said the Senator, “I know your reputation. If you try to manipulate me, I’ll make it my life’s work to have you executed by Bill of Attainder. Even if I have to wait for your father’s death to do it!”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Daniel. He smiled faintly. “With that understood, I’ll proceed with the briefing.”
Forbes’ threat was a warning. Corder Leary wasn’t the sort to wait for an enemy to do something overt. Nor was Hogg, which was the main reason Daniel had sent his servant off the bridge.
“We’re still taking on supplies,” Daniel explained. He thought of suggesting that they both sit down like Adele, but this wasn’t quite the time. “We could lift without them, but that would look like panic–and we’d be short of fresh fruits and vegetables for the voyage home.”
He gestured to the astrogation display on the console behind him. “Waiting to complete loading will only take six hours,” he said, “and I’ll venture to shave six hours off any other astrogator’s time to Cinnabar orbit. Giving the crew a short liberty demonstrates to the wogs–”
He chose the slur carefully.
“–and particularly to Captain Greathouse that the RCN is conducting business as usual despite the disaster on New Harmony. The delay isn’t significant.”
“Yes,” said Forbes, frowning. “What is the story on that? Do you suppose there’s any truth in what they were saying?”
“It’s more or less true,” said Adele without looking up. Her wands danced as she frowned at the holographic data forming in front of her. “The battleships, a cruiser, and a number of destroyers were destroyed or captured in harbor. The remainder of Ozawa’s ships fled to Cacique, where Petersen is blockading them.”
“By the Gods, Leary,” Forbes said. She looked as though she’d been punched in the stomach. “What… what does this mean?”
Daniel gestured her to the navigation console and sat down on his own couch. When Forbes was settled, he said, “The bulk of Petersen’s fleet, three battleships and attendant screens, proceeded from New Harmony to the Cacique system after the battle. Their plan is to set up a base on the larger moon and reduce the Cinnabar defenses. You’ll appreciate–”
He nodded toward Adele.
“–that Lady Mundy has gained this information through methods outside the normal RCN procedures.”
“Yes, Leary, yes,” said Forbes. “I’m not in the habit of blurting inside knowledge to amaze strangers at dinner parties. But we have to get this information back to Xenos! There’s nothing we can do about it by ourselves, surely?”
“I’m coming to that, Senator,” Daniel said. “There has to be a warning sent back to Xenos, of course, but we don’t have to carry it ourselves. The Milton is a powerful vessel, and the three of us on this bridge are–”
When he smiled, he realized how stiff his face had been. His cheeks felt like cardboard, crinkling.
“–in our different ways, important assets of the Republic also. We’re very close to the Montserrat Stars. If the Alliance is allowed to consolidate its victory, it’ll require a fleet much larger than Admiral Ozawa’s to dislodge them; and the RCN doesn’t have those ships. If we three are willing to take risks….”