|Patriarch's Hope |
|excerpt courtesy of Time Warner Trade Publishing|
". . . and so we gather to commission UNS Galactic, the greatest ship ever built, the pinnacle of human interstellar endeavor."
Surreptitiously, to avoid the attention of the pulsing holocams focused on the dais, I eased my aching leg, fixing a glazed stare at Admiral Dubrovik's broad back and the crowded London auditorium beyond. At my left Derek Carr smiled in sympathy.
Would old Dubrovik ever wind down? As SecGen and nominal Commander in Chief of all U.N. forces I could have blocked his posting to Lunapolis Command, but I'd interfered enough in U.N. Naval appointments over the years. These days, I tried to limit myself to where it would do the most good. Amid the dignitaries and officials patiently listening were a considerable number of officers I'd advanced because of competence rather than connections.
Yet also among the sober blue uniforms and starched dress whites were a few disgruntled Earth First sympathizers, disgusted that I wouldn't support retaking the few interstellar colonies that had achieved independence. There might even have been a few enviro fanatics, although zealots of that stripe were rare in the Navy. No doubt among the audience were quite a number who didn't give Christ's damn, as long as no one tampered with their pay billet.
". . . not since Earth's first convulsive leap into space two hundred fifty years ago have so many individuals, so many thousands of diverse corporations, participated in a public project."
And with good reason; their profits were enormous. Galactic was an error of judgment; I'd let myself be persuaded by Admiralty's unbounded enthusiasm and Senator Robbie Boland's deal with the Territorial Party, our opposition in the General Assembly, to give us a free hand on the Naval budget through the next Secretarial electionif we shared the lucrative construction contracts with their allies. What we needed were Alpha-class vessels like my first command, UNS Hibernia, not the vast and expensive behemoth we'd constructed.
I grimaced past my wife, Arlene, to my old friend Admiral Jeff Thorne, with whom I'd shared my misgivings.
Yes, Galactic, along with the nearly completed Olympiad and their two sister ships on the drawing boards, would help seed new colonies, but home system had been establishing colonies for nearly two centuries, and the existing colonies needed servicing too. I doubted it would prove efficient to send a huge vessel such as Galactic to supply Derek Carr's home colony of Hope Nation.
I glanced at the huge holoscreen, and the magnificent vessel that dominated its view. Lights blazing, she floated high above the planet, off Earthport Orbiting Station, at whose Naval wing she'd been built.
I shook my head. After the fiasco with UNS Wellington many years past, there was no thought of assembling a throng of dignitaries on ship for her dedication. We'd been lucky to escape with our lives that day, after the fish attacked. The aliens were gone now, victims of the caterwaul stations I'd devised. From time to time, in the dark nights when Lord God reproached me, I wondered whether to add genocide to the roll of my sins.
"Could even SecGen Seafort have imagined just twelve years ago, as he began his second administration, when the world was reeling from the Transpop Rebellion and not yet recovered from the attacks of the dread fish that he did so much to abate"
My breath came in a hiss. Arlene's bony fingers squeezed my right elbow in warning.
I scowled at her. "The damned sycophant! Did you hear what"
My wife leaned close, the ghost of a smile smoothing the wrinkles that caressed her still-bright blue eyes. "Cover your lips, Nick. They'll read you."
"By Lord God, let them. I" Common sense finally intruded. I subsided, seething.
To my left, a cough that might have been a chuckle. I shot Derek Carr a steely gaze that would have withered him as a Naval midshipman, but unfortunately those days were decades past. My old friend had a laser glare of his own that had held him in good stead since he'd become First Stadholder of Hope Nation, and he was unimpressed by mine.
". . . with her vast cargo holds, a crew of eight hundred ninety, transporting over three thousand passengers, bristling with armaments, she'll carry U.N. prestige and authority to our far-flung colonies across the infinite reaches of . . ."
Derek leaned close. "He does go on."
I turned to Jeff Thorne, whispering. "Do you hear? Now the idiot's making policy. 'Carry U.N. authority' indeed. As if we need a warship these days to deal with our own dominions."
"With some of them, you might." He raised a hand to forestall my reply. "I think Dubrovik's wrapping it up."
". . . and so, to commission UNS Galactic, I have the honor to present His Excellency Nicholas Ewing Seafort, Secretary-General of the United Nations." Turning, the Admiral flashed me a pleased smile, like a toddler expecting a parent's approval.
Welcoming applause rolled across the crowded hall, whose coolers labored to counteract the sweltering London summer.
I groped for my silver-headed cane, hoisted myself from my seat, and winked at Arlene, graying, gaunt, and lovely. "Shall I fire Dubrovik right now?" I was half-serious.
Her lips barely moved. "Of course, dear. The Territorials would love a martyr as a candidate, next election."
With a sigh, I limped to the waiting microphones.
"Voyager is landing," Mark Tilnitz, head of my security detail, muttered into his throat mike. Our heli set down precisely on the cross that marked the center of Devon Naval Academy's pad.
Tilnitz was an assignee of U.N. Investigations. General Donner was drawn from U.N.A.F., Karen Burns from Naval Intelligence, other security agents from New York Police Command. An odd system, but giving all services a hand in the SecGen's protection deterred the formation of a praetorian guard, with the resultant interservice jealousies.
I climbed out, under the sullen Devon afternoon sun. A security joey was waiting, to hover at my arm lest I slip. "Do I look feeble?" My voice was caustic. Perhaps I feared the answer. "Let me be. Here, Arlene." I extended a hand.
Ducking through the hatchway, she climbed slowly down the steps. "What's wrong, Nicky? You've been cross all day."
"Nothing." My knee ached. "I hate those public ceremonies." I forced a smile as Commandant Hazen hurried to greet us. Overhead, the helis and jets that constituted my unwieldy protection detail moved off.
Normally, security accompanied me everywhere, but from my first administration I'd drawn the line at Academy or the Naval wing at Earthport. Under no circumstances would I allow Tilnitz and his eclectic crew to pretend I needed guarding from the United Nations Naval Service, in which I'd served so memorably. I would wander the Academy grounds unprotected, except by the Commandant or his staff. It wasn't, after all, as if Academy were an open campus.
I looked about. A tall iron fence surrounded the compound, meeting itself at the guardhouse gate. As always, mulberry and juniper abounded, tended by Academy staff and cadets. Above, tall maples lent their shade. Devon Academy had once been far from town, but shops and pubs had sprung up to serve it. Still, our buildings were set well back from the fence, obscured by the extensive plantings, which allowed a modicum of privacy.
Arlene and I had just escaped the huge reception that followed my dedication of Galactic, and my cheeks were sore with the aftermath of my frozen smile. At least, standing about greeting dignitaries, I'd had time for a few amiable words with Derek Carr, before he went off to rejoin his Hope Nation trade legation. I'd be seeing him again in a day or so, at my retreat outside Washington.
"Welcome, Mr. SecGen." Hazen came to attention. Florid, the hint of a paunch lurking underneath his Naval blues, he still managed to look distinguished, a few touches of gray gracing his locks.
I returned his salute. "As you were." For a moment my heart eased. Devon was home to me. I frowned. Had been home, before my betrayal had forfeited all claim to it. Hastily, I turned my thoughts elsewhere. I'd made my peace with my transgressions years before, or thought I had. Either Lord God would forgive me, or He would not.
As we walked the unchanged footpath to the administration building I scrutinized the Commandant I'd met but once, at a Rotunda reception. Once, the Navy had been my entire life, and I wouldn't have dreamed of allowing the Board of Admiralty to appoint a Commandant I didn't know well. But since the Transpop Rebellion, I'd been ever more preoccupied with civilian issues, and the nurture of our economy.
I cleared my throat. "You've met Ms. Seafort, I believe?" Arlene, knowing me well, smoothly took over the conversation while I brooded. A former officer herself, she knew Academy as well as I.
We strolled past the Commandant's quarters I'd once occupied, past dorms I'd inhabited as a cadet. Knowing my wishesmy aides had made them clearHazen hadn't interrupted Academy routine to put the cadets on show for me; his charges were at their usual classes. Nonetheless, the compound seemed almost deserted. Typically, a handful of cadets could be found scurrying about on special duty or, as punishment detail, set to manicuring the lawn with meticulous precision.
The Commandant seemed to read my thoughts. "I canceled outdoor activities, Mr. SecGen." He glanced upward, shading his eyes. "Sorry, I should have brought lined umbrellas."
I snorted my disdain. "I don't need shielding." Nonetheless, I hurried my pace.
"We've a radiation alert for the rest of the week, despite the seeding. If the gamma count gets much worse I'll send most of the joeys to Farside." Lunar Academy, whose warrens were on the far side of the moon, where cadets did advanced training.
"Over time, it's getting better."
He shrugged. "So they say, but were you ever kept indoors at Devon?"
"That was a half century ago." I made a face. "Things change." To my relief, we were nearing the Commandant's quarters. My knee throbbed, and besides, I wanted Arlene out of the newly menacing sun.
"How about Grierson?" I looked across the gleaming rosewood conference table.
Sergeant M'bovo replied; the boy was of his barracks. "Good attitude, willing worker, sir. Still waiting to see his Yall." Give your all, we cadets had been exhorted. Over the years the "Navy all" had become a catchword, shortened to the Yall.
"He's only fifteen." Arlene's tone was gentle. Where I was often harsh with green young middies, she tended to be more kind. Her parenting, even more than my own, had nourished our son, Philip. Of course, in his adolescence even P.T. had learned that Arlene's tolerance had limits. Lord God protect the youngster who overstepped them.
Not so many years ago, as Philip had reached manhood, Arlene and I had spoken seriously of having more children. But, with the cares of office . . . I sighed. Over my long career youngsters seemed to seek me out, as if expecting guidance or assurance only I could provide. In return, I'd gotten too many of them killed.
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