Though Hell Should Bar The Way – Snippet 04

This wasn’t stuff I liked to talk about, and it wasn’t any of Leary’s business that I could see. Telling him to shut up was within my rights — and would’ve been, even if he’d been my commanding officer.

But that would look like I was afraid to talk about it. I wasn’t. Talking tore me up, but better that I say things myself than that other people say them about me.

Leary refilled my mug. Hogg kept lifting his beer to his lips while he watched the door, but the level in his mug didn’t seem to go down.

“What are you going to do now?” said Leary as he poured for himself.

“There’s other chandleries than Petersburg,” I said. That was the truth, but the confidence I tried to put in my voice was a lie. “And other work than that too, I guess.”

Leary shrugged. He raised his eyes to meet mine. “All true,” he said. “And you know my wife. Known her longer than I have, from what Mon says.”

“Well, I’ve known Miranda for pretty much my whole life,” I said, wondering if this was what Leary had been getting around to the whole time. All the stuff about my background didn’t matter to him as far as I could see. “I don’t think I’ve seen her since Junior, he was my older brother, got killed on New Harmony. He was Admiral Ozawa’s flag lieutenant. Junior and Tim Dorst had been best friends, and the families got together even after Dad got rich and Captain Dorst had pretty much his pay to live on. And then he died.”

Mom would’ve been happy to cut Miriam Dorst then because Miriam wasn’t willing to play poor relation to her. Dad wouldn’t have that. He’d been a great father and a good man — until the Navy Office looked into his accounts. Even then, thinking back, I couldn’t have had a better dad.

Leary filled my mug again and said, “Hogg? We could use another pitcher.”

“I shouldn’t be drinking this much,” I said. “I need to get up early to look for work.”

“This beer isn’t strong enough to hurt you,” Leary said, smiling at me as he poured the rest of the pitcher into his mug.

I wasn’t sure that was true — Junior’d been a hell-raiser, a proper RCN officer, but I wasn’t. The beer was going to my head.

Still, chatting with somebody friendly felt awfully good. I hadn’t had anybody to do that with since it came out about Dad.

“Look,” I said, looking straight at Leary. “Dad probably greased the skids to get Tim Dorst into the Academy because Tim wanted it so much. Dad had a lot of influence before it hit the headlines. I remember him saying, ‘Young Timothy’s got what it takes. There’s more about being an RCN officer than sitting on your butt in a classroom.'”

“Your father was right,” Leary said as Hogg put the fresh pitcher down. “About Midshipman Dorst and about RCN officers generally.”

He looked at me and his smile was a little harder. “Did he help you get in also?” he said.

“He didn’t have to,” I said, maybe a little crisper also. “For me or for Junior either one. Junior wasn’t much for study, but you could go a ways without finding somebody smarter.”

It’d probably been the best result for Junior that he wasn’t one of the handful who got out of the Heidegger alive after the missile hit her on lift-off. He’d been the social one of us. Having all your friends pretend they didn’t see you would’ve been hard for him.

The gods knew it wasn’t easy for me, and I didn’t have any friends. Not really.

The bar was filling up, but nobody said anything more about where we were sitting. If Cabrillo had come in, he’d decided not to make an issue out of it.

“You were raised rich yourself,” Leary said. “You didn’t have a problem working for a ship chandler?”

I shrugged. Bloody hell, I’ve drunk most of this mugful too.

“It’s honest work,” I said aloud. “Cady was a prick, but I’ve met pricks before. I was hoping that Fritzi would let me start doing some of the inventory control — there’s nobody in the office who really knows how to use a computer. Maybe the next house will.”

“As it chances…,” said Leary. He put his mug down with a bit of a thump. “I’ve got a slot for a junior officer myself. I’ve been asked to command a chartered transport carrying a Foreign Ministry delegation to Saguntum. Two of the officers who’d normally accompany me are staying in Xenos this time. One has a great deal of surgery and therapy yet to go before he’s really fit for duty, and his fiancée has taken an appointment in Navy Office while that’s happening.”

“Sir?” I said. I was choking again. I put my beer down. “I’d be honored. Greatly honored. Ah — this would be on your yacht?”

The Princess Cecile was almost as famous as Captain Leary himself. She’d been built as a warship, a corvette. She’d punched far above her weight every time she’d been in action, according to the stories at the Academy.

“Afraid not,” Leary said, smiling again. “The Sissie’s a little too conspicuous for this job, they tell me. Besides, there’s to be twelve in the delegation, which would be a tight fit on a corvette. You’ll be third officer on a standard transport, the Sunray. I’ll be bringing some of my regular crew along, though.”

“Sir, I’ll serve in any fashion you and the Republic wish,” I said. I was choking, I knew I was, and I rubbed my eyes to keep from embarrassing myself even worse. “Ah, I was good academically, but I wasn’t at the top of my class even there.”

“I know exactly where you were, Olfetrie,” Leary said. “My wife asked me to do a favor if it looked reasonable, which it does to me. And Woetjans, my bosun, said she liked the way you handled yourself in a fight. She’s a pretty good judge of that sort of thing.”

My mug wasn’t empty, but he filled it anyway. “Now drink up,” he said. “You can report to the Sunray in Harbor Three at noon and we’ll get the paperwork squared away.”

I drank deeply. Tears were running down my cheeks. I decided I didn’t care.