Chapter Seven

Luyang Heavy Industries conducted the second successful test of the new Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (codename Silkstar) it is developing for House Dai Zhan. The missile will be crucial in the Great House's efforts to defeat increased pirate activity in the Böhm-Bawerk sector.

—“Twice is Nice for New Luyang Missile”, Jane's Spinward Sectors, 2844.062

YORK WAS having coffee in the wardroom by herself when Lieutenant Tregaski entered, approaching her table directly. “Miss York, Captain Hull told me you should have a good look over the ship,” he boomed cordially. His beefy face was considerably friendlier than the last time she'd seen it. “I'll be your appointed guide today.”

“How very thoughtful of the captain. Must we begin the tour immediately?”

“There's no hurry,” Tregaski said. “Finish your coffee. On second thought, I'll have a cup with you, if you don't mind, miss.”

“Please, sit down, lieutenant.”

Two kiloseconds later, watching Tregaski walking down the corridor with the quick, easy stride of a man who had mastered the variable gravities of space, York chuckled to herself. Only four days ago Tregaski had been eager to throw her off the destroyer and shown himself perfectly willing to shoot her in the back. Now, he was her cheerful tour guide. Men, she thought to herself, were wonderfully uncomplicated creatures.

Tregaski glanced back at her. “Ever been on a destroyer before, Miss?”

York admitted she had not.

“I'll fill you in,” he offered. “Draco is small for a warship, but she's got some punch. She's designated as Horizon-class, technically Horizon-GP, which stands for Galactic Patrol. You'll find a fair number of them in the spinward sectors. She's outfitted for extended patrol and peacekeeping, putting down minor planetary disturbances, civil wars that threaten to get out of hand, and situations like that.”

“What sort of armaments does she have?”

“She has four sets of tactical lasers, a single 150mm projectile cannon, two 64 cell Mk 17 suborbital launch systems, one 32 cell exorbital launcher, 96 RIM-72 suborbital devices, and 48 VTAC Infernity dual-use missiles. For the launch systems, she carries 384 atmospheric rockets and 128 deep space torpedoes.

York pursed her lips. “I should think you could put down quite a planetary disturbance.”

“And her primary launch is armed with a pair of 18mm mini-cannons in the nose as well as a belly laser.” Tregaski grinned proudly. “She can't nova a sun or anything, and she doesn't have the armor or the guns for fleet actions, but she can hold her own.”

“What is a suborbital device?”

“It's Navy speak for a cobalt bomb.” He went on describing Draco in detail. Its hull contained three decks and an underdeck, the first of which largely was taken up by the officers' quarters, wardroom and galley. The bridge lay forward, slightly elevated above the same level, and was flanked by two weapons compartments. Other weapons rooms were aft. The second deck, which he explained was very crowded, contained the crew quarters, the mess hall, the chief galley, the laundry and medical quarters, in addition to small-arms depots and crew storage facilities. The third deck roughly was divided between operational compartments and storage holds, while the underdeck contained the ammunition stores, engines, emergency pods, and planetary landers.

Although Tregaski spoke in an casual manner, York could hear the pride with which he described the ship, its officers and crew. Plainly he believed there was but one real fighting ship in the Ascendancy Navy and ATSV Draco was it.

“And the crew complement?”

“Twenty-eight officers and 246 enlisted. You're the only passenger, Miss.”

“So many? I suppose I only see a small section of the crew on the officer's deck. How would you say the men regard the captain?”

“Captain Hull is the best skipper I've ever served under. There's not a man aboard who wouldn't give his life for the captain,” Tregaski proclaimed defiantly. “He should be an admiral, but he'll never get the chance.”

York caught the slight bitterness in his voice. “Where are you from, Lieutenant?”

“Pola, third of the sun Fomalhaut. I'm a spinworlder, like the captain.”

“And that is a problem?”

“It's more of a handicap,” Tregaski said, with a shrug of resignation. “We have to work harder for promotion, we spend more years between grades. As for assignments, we're usually stuck out on the rim, well away from the core on planets like Xigaze. Commanding a destroyer is as high as the skipper can go. They don't make admirals from the outworlds.”

“That doesn't seem fair,” she told him, a little dishonestly.

In truth, she knew the policy made a considerable amount of sense. The top echelon of government, both military and civilian, was restricted to the Terran-born members of House Malhedron. While other Houses Major might hold provincial and planetary governments, they were not permitted control over to the true levers of galactic power, of which the Ascendancy's Navy was the most important. If the masters of Terra's Ascendancy were benevolent, as they were in many ways, she was also a greedy mistress when it came to the control of power. And yet most of its people were happy, prosperous, and content. A man could go as far as his ambition and ability drove him. Or almost as far. All in all, the Ascendancy was the largest, most durable, and stable government Man ever had known.

And yet there was no denying that under the rule of House Malhedron, Man's empire had become stagnant, perhaps even decadent. Once a behemoth that reached avidly throughout the galaxy, the Greater Terran Ascendancy had come at last to what histo-sociologists termed “the pause of centuries.” But nothing paused for long, she reflected. History showed that the pause was most likely prelude to a great retrogradation. She was no sociologist, but even she could see the signs.

Tregaski shrugged again. “I can't complain, though. The Navy's been pretty good to me. I wouldn't trade my life for no title on Terra.”

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A Mind Programmed: She Can Hold Her Own