SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 50:

Adele heard the squeal and clang of a score of hatches all over the ship opening–without orders and by implication against orders. Vesey was rising from the command console. Her pale face flushed. She sat down again hard and reached for the commo switch.

“I wonder, Captain Vesey,” said Daniel very loudly. Despite the pings of differential cooling, the bridge was quiet enough for normal talk now that the thrusters had shut down. Daniel’s volume was suitable for shouting across the harbor. “Would you come here for a moment and see if my course plot agrees with yours?”

Vesey hesitated between what she’d sttarted to do and obeying Daniel’s summons. Adele disconnected the command console from all communications links save the cable going to the Signals Console. She supposed that was mutiny, though she doubted that she’d be tried for it. In any case, it was better than letting Vesey give an order that Daniel was obviously trying to prevent.

Sun was raising the dorsal turret to make room in the hull. Ollarville wasn’t a bad place to have the cannon available besides, though the turret power was off so that the guns couldn’t be loaded, let alone fired.

At the sound of Daniel’s raised voice, Sun turned to look. Adele caught his eye and pointed one of her wands–disconnected for the purpose of the gesture–toward the hatch. The gunner’s mate scrambled up from his console, pausing only to shut it off.

Adele rose also, moving more deliberately than Sun but not wasting time either. Hogg and Tovera stood on either side of the hatchway, awaiting developments.

Vesey had gone white again. “Sir,” she said, “I gave no orders to open any hatch but the main one where we can control access.”

“Mundy, I’d appreciate it if you’d stay and chat with me and Vesey here,” Daniel said easily. He remained seated, apparently at ease. “And Hogg, please close the hatch behind yourself and Tovera.”

“Yes, of course, Commander,” Adele said. Her mouth was dry. She considered sitting down again but decided not to.

“Guess we know when we’re not wanted, don’t we, Tovera?” Hogg said cheerfully. “Come on up on the spine with me and let’s pick fields of fire.”

The hatch closed with a sigh and a restrained clink, automatic mechanisms completing the task they were directed to do by a human push. Daniel’s eyes flicked to the portal, making sure the sound hadn’t deceived him.

“Not ‘Commander’,” he said, “because this is just a chat. Three friends together, you see?”

Vesey didn’t speak. She looked worn beyond life, a mummy draped in loose utilities.

“Yes, of course,” Adele said. “We’re all friends.”

That was true, but it was also true that she’d shoot Vesey dead if Daniel ordered it. Daniel knew that and surely Vesey did also; but it was equally true that Daniel wouldn’t have kept Adele Mundy present for her willingness to do a job that Hogg or Tovera would’ve handled with less concern and equal skill.

“And you’re right that you didn’t order the crew to ventilate the ship now that we’re down, Vesey,” Daniel said, his fingers laced on his lap. He leaned back in his console. “But I don’t see why you thought that would be necessary. The Sissie’s fortunate to have an extremely experienced crew who’ve made, oh, tens of thousands of landings in all, wouldn’t you say?”

“Sir, do you want my resignation?” Vesey said. She was trembling and her eyes, though focused on the bulkhead beyond Daniel’s right shoulder, didn’t appear to be seeing anything but the misery in her own soul.

“No, I don’t,” Daniel said calmly. “But I will ask for your resignation if you attempt to turn this crew into robots. You won’t succeed, of course. But you might just push them to mass desertion, which would be almost as bad as ruining the best lot of spacers who ever graced the RCN. Now, what about it?”

“Sir, there ought to be discipline,” Vesey said. She sounded desperate. “There has to be discipline!”

“Yes, there does,” Daniel said. His tone was much harder than it would’ve been if he’d been agreeing. “And if you think either Woetjans or Pasternak doesn’t know how to enforce discipline, then you haven’t seen them put a draft of landsmen through their paces with starter of flex to get their attention. A crew like this one doesn’t have to be told to pull their utilities on zipper-end front, though. Do you understand?”

“If I’m captain, I have a right to set procedures,” Vesey said. Her voice had sunk from desperation to despair. “Isn’t that so?”

“Certainly,” said Daniel. “But these aren’t dogs you’re training for the circus. Vesey, you’re a crackerjack officer and that’s why I hired you. But if you decide you have to regulate everything around you just to say you did, then I’ll recommend you for a training post in the Academy. You certainly won’t be of any use on a ship that I own.”

Vesey didn’t speak. She looked as though she was tied to a stake, waiting for the firing party to execute her.

Adele suddenly realized why Daniel had asked her to be present. “Elspeth,” she said. She wondered if she’d ever used Vesey’s given name before. “I’m not sure that Daniel understands why you might react to loss in the way you have. I understand very well.”

Vesey turned to look at her. The movement had an odd jerkiness as though Vesey’s conscious mind had to control actions that were usually instinctual. “What do you mean?” she said, her voice soft.

“The need to control things, because all you cared about has melted away like sand in the ocean,” Adele said. “I was an orphan on a distant planet, living on sufferance. The only thing I could control was myself, and I got very good at that.”

She grinned at Vesey. It was actually as broad a smile as she ever managed.

“I’ll bet I was better than you could be,” she went on. “I think I was always missing a piece of what it means to be human. But if you think you can top my record, go right ahead. Just don’t try to apply the same degree of control to anything beyond your own skin, because it’s improper to treat human beings as though they’re game pieces. Besides, as Daniel said, it won’t work on anybody worth having around you.”

Vesey swallowed, then forced a smile. “Sir?” she said. “I understand and I’ll try. But I can’t lead the way you do. Nobody can! But I’ll try not to….”

She let her voice trail off. Daniel’s smile was warm as a summer day. He rose from the console with compact grace and said, “We’re just friends talking, Elspeth, so I’m Daniel. Now, we’ve got the local authorities to deal with. After that we’ll reconnect with Corius, since I hear his ships coming down now. But at some point, this evening I hope, The three of us can have a friendly drink in the owner’s cabin. If you’re amenable, that is?”

“Thank you,” Vesey said. “I’ll try to make you proud of me. I–”

She turned her head away quickly. “Thank you, Daniel,” she blurted and put her hands to her face.

Adele was closer to the hatch, but Daniel reached the latch plate before her. They were both mumbling inconsequential things to mask the sound of Vesey’s sobs as they stepped into the corridor. The tears were a release of course, nothing to be ashamed of. Still, as a matter of courtesy and duty both Adele and Daniel had reason to get off the bridge.

More than two minutes ago Blantyre had excitedly reported that a local delegation was on the quay demanding access. Woetjans with a squad of armed spacers was keeping the officials from stepping onto the boarding ramp.

But Daniel’d always been good at prioritizing. First things first.