SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 55:
CHAPTER 15: Dunbar's World
Daniel rotated the command console inward and smiled at his assembled officers. The Sissie's bridge was a tight fit even for the eleven of them, but Adele was projecting the address onto the display in each other compartment for the crew.
He remembered being surprised earlier in their relationship that she'd bent over her console while he was giving the ship's complement one of his pep talks. Of course she concentrated on her console: Adele preferred to get her information displaced by one or more filtering layers. It didn't mean she wasn't absorbing it.
"Well, Sissies," he said, keeping his tone light. The expressions on the faces watching him ranged from wary to angry. "In the morning Officer Mundy and I will go off with Councilor Corius to Port Dunbar, as I'm sure you've heard by now. This doesn't change anything since Captain Vesey's already in charge. Besides, we'll be in constant communication."
"Sir, what if the comsat net goes out?" Midshipman Blantyre said. The very effort she put into sounding coolly professional showed how worried she was. "The Pellegrinians might decide to take it down."
"We'll still be in communication, Blantyre," said Adele without looking up. She spoke calmly, but her wands were moving in jerks as quick and seemingly meaningless as the legs of a sleeping dog. "There may be a delay of a few minutes, depending on what ships are in orbit. There've never been less than two in the whole time since the invasion, according to landing control database, and I assure you I can use their communications modules for relay."
Daniel nodded, knowing that Adele's unusually full answer was meant as a rebuke as well to provide information. She took her duties seriously, and the notion that she wouldn't have considered alternative ways of carrying them out obviously rankled. Blantyre hadn't intended the implied criticism, of course, but one of the things an RCN officer had to learn was that words could be just as precise as–and even more potentially dangerous than–pistol bullets.
"Sir, you ought to take a few of us along," Woetjans said, speaking in a forceful growl but looking at the deck instead of meeting his eyes. "Look, these wogs–half of 'em are against us and we can't trust the other half neither. You need somebody along to break heads when needs be!"
Everybody knew what she meant was, "Sir, take me!" and knew also that if Six had been willing to do that he'd already have said so. Woetjans spoke anyway, because she had to.
"Well, Woetjans, there's a risk," Daniel said, allowing the hint of a frown to furrow his forehead. He meant what he was saying, but the way he was saying it was as calculated as any lie his father had delivered in the Senate Chamber. Speaker Leary would understand and probably approve.
"I don't believe it's an unreasonable risk, though," he continued. "Besides, there's only the single eight-place aircar to carry the whole party, and the Councilor is granting me four seats. Perhaps you think that I should say to him, 'Well, this trip's all right for a wog politician, but it's too dangerous for an RCN officer.' Eh?"
Daniel heard hoots of laughter through the closed hatch. He paused, grinning at the bosun and seeing everybody else on the bridge do the same.
Everybody but Adele, of course, her attention on her display. She probably disapproved of him using the word "wog" though she'd see the need to make his point to the crew in the language spacers themselves used.
"Look, sir, you can laugh," Woetjans snarled to the deck. "I haven't got the words, I know that. But you know what I mean!"
She was genuinely angry, at the situation rather than at Daniel for having created it. She'd have had a right to be angry at him, though; he'd made her look foolish, which she didn't deserve and which her courage and loyalty certainly didn't deserve.
"Woetjans, look at me," Daniel said sharply. "You're right. I apologize. But as for what you're asking–Hogg and Tovera are going with us. I've cracked a few heads myself when it was called for. I don't expect that to be the case in Port Dunbar, but you're right, it could be. And I guess we all know that Officer Mundy can take care of herself, right?"
This time the laughter, on the bridge and beyond it, was entirely positive.
"Mundy and I don't need more bodyguards than we've got on this…," Daniel shrugged, searching for a word. "On this reconnaissance. But it may very well be that we'll need a rescue party, and because of who I'm leaving behind on the Sissie I know that there'll be one. I trust Captain Vesey–"
He looked at her and nodded, avoiding the smile he'd have offered in a different context.
"–to plan ably if I'm not in a position to give detailed instructions. And I trust you, Woetjans, to lead the party executing those plans with your usual skill and enthusiasm. But to do that–"
This time Daniel did smile.
"–you have to be back here waiting for the word which we all hope will never come. Right?"
"Do I gotta say I don't want a chance to mix it with these wogs, sir?" Woetjans said. "Because I'll say it if it's orders, but I'll be lying."
Daniel joined the laughter. "No, Woetjans, you don't have to say that," he said. "But I'd appreciate it if you'd hope Mundy and I get back before the fighting starts, all right?"
There was general laughter again. Woetjans' guffaws were the loudest, perhaps out of relief.
"Fellow Sissies…," Daniel continued. "I don't know any better than you do what the next few days will bring. I've given Captain Vesey instructions about cooperation with the Bennarian Volunteers, as Corius calls his troops. They'll be policing up local political gangs. Not a big problem, I suspect, but if they ask for help we'll of course provide it."
Once it'd bothered him to see how he was using words to make his spacers react in particular ways. It was the sort of thing his father would've done–the sort of thing Corder Leary had done repeatedly over the years and probably still did. Daniel let his expression grow grimmer.
"Now," he continued, "here's the hard part. I've requested Captain Vesey to stop leave until I tell her otherwise. That's partly because if I call for help, I don't want the watch officers to have to comb every dive in Ollarville before the Sissie lifts to save my butt."
When he mentioned stopping leave, the watching faces had grown guarded. Nobody was going to argue with Commander Leary, but it wasn't the sort of news spacers liked to get. On a voyage they were confined to the ship of necessity, but they reasonably felt that they were owed a chance to let off steam as soon as they made landfall.
The explanation–that they were on call for a rescue attempt–was one they could understand and accept, but it wasn't the whole truth. Since Daniel expected shortly to be leading his Sissies into hot places–and maybe hotter than that–he wasn't willing to leave them with what at core would be a lie.
"Now," he said, "I told you 'partly'. Here's the other part: I don't want you fighting with Corius' men."
"What!" Sun blurted. There'd be other, similar cries from the common spacers in the other compartments. "Hey, it doesn't matter how many there is! We can handle that, sir!"
"I know that I can expect my Sissies to conduct themselves as credits to the RCN," Daniel said, letting a deliberate harshness enter his voice. "I also know that if push comes to shove, somebody'll decide that a pair of plasma cannon make up nicely for the other side having twenty, thirty times the numbers. I know that because that's how I bloody think–and what I'd bloody do if I had to!"
He cleared his throat and made a slight grimace, as though he were ashamed of raising his voice that way. The emotion was completely real, but the fact he showed it–there was the art. As Corder Leary well knew.
"It's because of that," Daniel said, "that I'm stopping leave. Because if you go out and the odds are so much on the side of the pongoes, they're going to push. And you'll push back–sure as God you will, because you're my Sissies. And then it'll go all the way up the line because we're the RCN, we do what we need to to win. And so I'm going to make sure by the only means I've got that we don't have to fight it this time. Do you understand?"
The officers on the bridge made muted, positive sounds. Some of the spacers outside shouted or even cheered.
"I'll promise you two things, fellow Sissies," Daniel said. "When all this is over, I'll buy enough booze to float the Sissie and all you'll have to do is drink it. That's the one promise."
Woetjans, Sun, and Cory–the midshipman looking startled an instant later–shouted approval. Louder shouts trickled through the closed hatch.
"And the other is this," he concluded. "Before we leave Dunbar's World, you'll have had your belly full of fighting. We don't need to start with Corius' troops, that's all."
There were more cheers. They were a good crew, the best, and they trusted their commander.
They have a right to trust me, Daniel thought as the cheerful enthusiasm rolled over him. I haven't lied to them yet. But my God, the truths I've told them in a way to make them pleased to hear them!