Though Hell Should Bar The Way – Snippet 26

When the hatch had closed behind me and Langland in the airlock, I said, “What’s the story about the other two?”

He frowned. “Glance and Bodo, no story,” he said. “They don’t speak much Standard, but they’re good spacers. I’m not sure where they come from. Never much cared, to tell the truth.”

I wondered what he paid them. As little as he could, and that was probably less than a spacer with a better grasp of Standard would’ve gotten. I wouldn’t have called them “good spacers,” but I was comparing them against the Sunray’s crew. Chances were the run of RCN ships wouldn’t have measured up to that standard.

The cable that extended and furled the starboard sails was jammed at the masthead. I climbed up to it and found the reason: The cable had been spliced into a rat’s nest about four times the diameter of the line proper. Apparently it’d worked for a while, but when it finally jammed, the cable guide had buggered it hopelessly.

I came back down, put my helmet against Langland’s, and said, “I guess we can resplice this, but it isn’t going to be easy. Do you have a spare cable?”

I could resplice it, anyway. I figured that whoever’d made the botch that I’d seen there now wasn’t going to do any better a second time.

“Well, nothing of the weight,” Langland said. “That’s why I had Bodo and Glance splice it.”

He led me to the outside supply locker. There was indeed a spool in it — marked #8, which meant it was exactly half the diameter of the cable on the antenna at present. This was the cable that’d usually be used to raise yards, not to extend the antenna itself. On the other hand…

“Okay, we’ll swap it out,” I told Langland. I wasn’t acting like a junior spacer, but they hadn’t recruited me in the proper way either. I hadn’t liked the notion of running out of food on the way to Blanchard.

“But that’s not heavy enough,” Langland said.

“It doesn’t have to serve for long,” I said. “We’ll take the old cable aboard and I’ll splice it in the cabin. If I try to do it out here, I’m likely to butcher it as badly as the first guy did.”

That wasn’t true. It was, however, true that I didn’t want to do a major splice in a hard suit that I didn’t trust not to fall apart even without being poked by a frayed cable.

I disconnected the hydraulic line, then went up the antenna again, carrying the new spool. It was a lot easier this time than it’d been on the Sunray. Not only was the antenna not extended — that was the problem, after all — but I cut the original cable and used it as a traveller after I’d reconnected hydraulic line.

It was easier also because I’d done it before — and because I’d done a lot of other things as well since Barnes first ran me through my paces on the Sunray. I was confident, because I’d managed to hold my own in a picked crew under a famous captain. There were plenty of better spacers, but none of them were on the Martinique.

We hauled the old cable in together, loosely gathered since there was no point in rolling it properly. I wasn’t looking forward to making a proper splice, but that was the job.

* * *

Wellesley complained that the cable took up most of the cabin, which it did. I didn’t bother explaining why I was doing the job inside rather than on the antenna. That was obvious if you accepted that I didn’t want to die because I’d ripped the suit open. Wellesley probably didn’t accept that, but even he wasn’t willing to push the business too hard.

I’d squared the ends on either side of the previous splice. That was a bad enough job in itself as the Martinique’s saw was on its last legs. The power supply didn’t hold a charge — I had to recharge it three times on each cut — and the diamonds of the blade were worn almost smooth with the steel disk they were set into.

I thought about the tools I’d seen by the scores in the chandleries that Dad supplied. It hadn’t crossed my mind that there were a lot of ship masters who couldn’t afford to replace basic equipment when it was worn out.

Splicing was a simple job. Wearing gauntlets I spread both ends of the cable a foot back from the cut, using the handle of a pair of pliers since the ship didn’t have the hardened spike intended for the job, then laboriously braided each matching pair of filament bundles with the same pliers.

Using hand tools I couldn’t possibly join the ends tightly enough to take the strain of extending the antenna, but the interior supply locker had a can of vacuum adhesive. It wasn’t full, but I was pretty sure there was enough to lock the pairs together until we got to the ground.

What happened then was no concern of mine. Blanchard was a civilized world, and I was pretty sure that the local authorities wouldn’t be willing to forcibly return a jumped spacer to his ship if he insisted he was a Cinnabar citizen. Cinnabar was a long way away, but the Republic made rather a thing about the rights of her citizens.

Even if there wasn’t a Cinnabar consul, on something like this I could probably get help from the Alliance embassy. Neither of the great powers had any use for dirtball worlds giving themselves airs.

I kept working my watch. I’d thought of telling the others to cover for me while I focused on the splice. They’d gotten along without me before they landed on Saguntum, after all, though the rigging’s wretched condition showed that they’d gotten along very poorly.

But so long as the #8 cable continued to work, there wasn’t a crisis. I didn’t want to provoke a fight unless I had to. It wasn’t as though I had anything better to do with my time than work on the rigging.

Splicing gave me a lot of time to think. Mostly what I thought about was why I’d been drugged and sold to a short-crewed ship that was lifting immediately.

It had to have been at Maeve’s orders. It can’t have been because she was angry about me turning her down, because there had to have been a lot of preplanning.

The only thing that made sense to me was that Maeve was afraid I’d warn Captain Leary that she was planning something — she was or the Foreign Ministry was.

I probably wouldn’t have said anything anyway, mostly because I was embarrassed about the whole business. “Sir, a woman came on to me and I ran away.”

But what was Maeve — or maybe what was the Foreign Ministry — planning? She had some sort of gang working for her, but I didn’t see how they could accomplish anything serious against the Sunray’s crew. A couple thugs could easy enough nobble a young fool like me, but it wouldn’t have worked with an experienced spacer.

Lady Mundy, whom Maeve had said was the leader of the conspiracy to start a war, would never have been caught by such local talent. The stories I’d heard from spacers from the Princess Cecile made “the Mistress” out to be a demon from Hell, and she was always with Tovera, who was even worse.

Anyway, that’s how it stood until the Martinique reached Blanchard orbit with food still in her lockers.

Then the undersized cable on the starboard antenna snapped when Captain Langland started to retract it.