WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 9:



            "I think she's beautiful," Miranda said softly. "Generally I think Kostroma-built ships look stumpy, but the Sissie's lines are perfect."

            "I'm glad you think so, dear," Daniel said, choosing his words carefully.

            To him the corvette was simply right: not pretty, not functional, just the way the universe had made her. He felt about the Sissie the same way he did about his nose. He knew there were many women and not a few men who obsessed about the details of their physical appearance, but not Daniel Leary; and the corvette was part of him.

            He chuckled. Miranda looked at him and cocked an eyebrow in question. "I was thinking about the Sissie the way I do about my nose," Daniel said, wondering if that made any sense to the others. "Actually, she's more like my right hand, isn't she?"

            The first lowboy was crawling down the quay to find room to reverse; a second, loaded with a further quartet of missiles, pulled up in its place. A stake-bed produce truck drove with a crashing of gears past the three more waiting lowboys and stopped beside Daniel and his companions.

            Hogg got out of the cab. "All right, Bantries," he bellowed. "Hop down and wait till the Master tells you where he wants you!"

            He turned to Daniel, looking pleased, and said, "Good morning, young master. Woetjans thought you could use a heftier crew, so I went back to the estate and brought you twenty tenants that I was willing to vouch for. They'll need training before you can all'em spacers, but it seems to me some of what you need in this business is folks who'll jump when the master says jump. Aye, and knock heads when they're told, that too. This lot qualifies."

            The men–and a few women–climbing from the back of the truck dipped their faces and touched forelocks to Daniel before shuffling into line. Most were young and one freckle-faced boy didn't look to be more than fourteen years old. If Hogg'd picked him, though, there was a reason.

            Hogg was Daniel's servant. Hogg's ancestors had served Learies of Bantry for as far back as records ran. He looked dirty, unsophisticated, and almost bright enough to count to ten on his fingers.

            In fact Hogg was dirty. He was also a skilled poacher, as clever–and ruthless–as a ferret, and utterly loyal to the young master.

            Hogg had been the man in Daniel's life while he was growing up. Loyalty and devotion didn't mean that Hogg wouldn't whale the living daylights out of a boy he thought needed it. They'd both known that if Daniel had complained to his gentle mother, Hogg would be turned off the estate in disgrace.

            Hogg had continued to raise the boy according to his standards of conduct, because it was his duty to do so. That willingness to put duty first had been the guiding light of Daniel's life ever since. It'd served him well in the RCN.

            Daniel looked critically at the new recruits. It'd been nearly a decade since he'd been back to Bantry, so he didn't recognize many of the faces. Michael Polucha, though, had the streak of white in his hair where he'd fallen into the fish processor back when he and Daniel were both eleven.

            "You, Stripey!" Daniel called. "Why did you decide to join the RCN?"

            "Well, it's what Hogg told us, Master Daniel…," Polucha said, his eyes turned down toward his bare toes. "More money than anybody on Bantry ever seed–in the cottages I mean, saving your presence. And everybody bowing and scraping to us, 'cause we b'long t' Captain Leary."

            Daniel scowled, wondering how to handle this. These folk were his responsibility, and the Learies didn't lie to their retainers. On the other hand, he had responsibilities to the Princess Cecile and the RCN also, and another twenty recruits could be very helpful….

            "Just hold on before you say the wrong thing, young master," Hogg said. He turned to the Sissie's main hatch where Richard Campeny, the armorer, was chatting with the two power room ratings on guard with sub-machine guns.

            "Campeny!" he called. "You heard what Polucha says I told him. Is it the truth?"

            "Hell, yes, Hogg," said Campeny, straightening when he realized everybody–including Miranda–was watching him. "Though I won't pretend much of the money stuck to my fingers; I guess there's more could say that too. It's a bloody good time whenever we're on the ground, though, and they learn we're Sissies. A bloody good time!"

            Hogg bobbed his head, then faced Daniel again. "Now, young master," he said forcefully. "Now what do you say?"

            "All right, Campeny," Daniel said. "Since you seem to have time on your hands, take charge of this draft until Woetjans gets through stowing the missiles. Tell Lieutenant Vesey to set up the watches and make bunk assignments."

            "You heard the master!" Hogg said. "Hop it, Bantries! You're going to make us proud or you'll rue the day you were born!"

            The new draft clumped and clattered aboard the Sissie. Sun led and Hogg brought up the rear. They each carried a blanket roll; first order of business would be to get them proper footlockers. That'd mean Master Daniel–as opposed to Commander Leary–would need to advance modest amounts of money….

            "When will Lady Mundy be joining you, Daniel?" Miranda said. "Or is she already aboard?"

            "Is she on board, Mon?" Daniel asked; Mon shook his head.

            "To be honest," Daniel said to Miranda, "I don't know when she'll arrive. She said she had some business to take care of."

            He pursed his lips. "And she said she'd be bringing an assistant, if I approved," he added. "Which of course I did."

            "That'd be Tovera, you mean, sir?" Mon asked. He kept his tone very neutral, the way people did when they had to talk about Tovera.

            "No, from the way she spoke, she's talking about a real assistant," Daniel said. "In addition to her servant Tovera. I, ah, I'm confident that Officer Mundy knows what she's doing."

            Mon nodded. Pasternak, the Chief Engineer, leaned out of a stern hatch. "Mon!" he bellowed. "There's a bloody valve frozen on the feed to Number Eight thruster!"

            "There bloody well isn't unless your own people have been monkeying with it!" Mon bellowed back. He glanced at Daniel. "With your leave?'

            "Of course, Mon," Daniel said, but his manager was already striding up the Sissie's entrance ramp. His boots hammered the non-skid surface.

            "Is the assistant someone that Lady Mundy's other friends assigned to her, Daniel?" Miranda said in a very quiet voice.

            "To be honest, my dear," Daniel said, "I don't know and I don't want to know. I'm happiest–"

            He smiled warmly at the girl beside him, taking some of the sting out of what was nonetheless a rebuke.

            "–when I don't know anything at all about Adele's other friends!"