Chapter 19: Captain Pym
It was still dark when I awoke and discovered that I was alone.
I’m out here, in the sitting room.
I found her sprawled on the floor with the gown the Prefect had given her and a pair of shears.
“What are you doing?”
“I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I’m preparing my wedding gown. Did you know this establishment provides every suite with a sewing kit?
“I had no idea.”
“Yes. This gown’s gorgeous but much too long. I’ll not be hiding my tail at my own wedding.” She put her fists on her hips and sighed. “It’s not going well, however. I can cut, but I know nothing about sewing. It’s my upbringing. I never wore and hardly even saw a stitch of clothes ‘til we came to Terra, I was eight. I used to whine and complain about having to cover up ‘til it drove my mother to distraction. Finally she convinced me of how pretty clothing can be. Even then, I was never really interested in making or modifying clothes.”
“Actually, I can help.”
“You can?!” She was incredulous.
“Of course. In the Navy, officers and enlisted are expected to maintain their own uniforms. Nothing fancy just basic darning, hemming and so forth.”
“Darning? Hemming? You even know sewing words!”
I laughed. “Most of my ‘sewing words’ are stronger than that; especially when I stick myself.”
“You would have been shocked at the words I was using.”
She had already cut several centimeters from the bottom and had made openings for her pelvic fins. I showed her how to hem all the raw edges. We finished up by turning the cut off portion into a head-covering.
“Well, how do I look?” she asked after trying it all on.
“Like a bride and a very beautiful one at that.”
Her eyes lit up. “Well I like that! Get yourself ready and let’s go!”
It was barely daylight when we came to the door to the chaplain’s suite. I was a bit reluctant to knock. “Are you sure he won’t mind?” I asked.
“Absolutely! You afraid he might excommunicate us or something? Dammit!” She grimaced and tugged on the skirt. “I got a bit twisted when I hopped into my chair.”
“Don’t worry, you look great. And watch your language!”
I pressed the buzzer and was surprised when the door opened right away. The chaplain (I assumed it was he) stood smiling in black cassock and clerical collar.
“Commander Morgan I presume; Father Gregory Harrod at your service. And Lady Ariadne too! What might be bringing you two to my door this fine morning?”
“We want you to marry us, Father!” she bounced.
“Dear oh dear!” the priest winked. “That’s a serious matter! Come in; let’s discuss it over some tea. Have you had breakfast yet?”
We stepped into the dining room to find the table set for six and Justin and Sergeant Windridge already seated.
“Here are your two witnesses,” said Father Gregory. Lady Jen sends her regrets; she’s having her hand operated on this morning.”
You were ahead of me. I thought. Way, way ahead of me.
Of course, get used to it. Ari grinned wickedly.
Just then the Prefect emerged from the bedroom in full naval regalia. “Could someone help me button this epaulette, the bloody damn thing won’t…Oh, sorry Father and Milady.”
“And this foul-mouthed gentleman will be giving the bride away.”
“Father will be so happy to hear you could stand in for him,” said Ari as she raised her chair. “Let me help you with the bloody damn thing.”
The Priest rolled his eyes and sighed.
We all shared an omelet and toast that Father Greg had whipped up and washed it all down with a very good local tea.
“Well,” said the prefect as he put down his cup, “Let’s get to it, shall we. The Crockett needs her captain.”
We made a small caravan to the chapel which was all ready for us. The Prefect carried Ari down the aisle then stood her upon her tail next to me. Father Gregory used a ceremony out of the Western Prayerbook which did not involve much moving about. Ari had little difficulty standing or kneeling, so long as her arm was in mine to give her balance. The music was some Bach piped over the chapel’s sound system. When it came time to kiss the bride, we made a good show of it though her eyes were filled with tears. There was no reception really, just a bottle of local champaign popped in the vestry.
The Prefect was apologetic, but we did have to leave immediately after the ceremony for the hospital. There we had to part, Ari to see to Jen, me to Captain Pym’s room.
I dreaded seeing Pym, though it was the final step for me to gain the Crockett. She had had her first command torn away from her and was perhaps crippled for life. Even though I had nothing to do with her misfortune (she strapped the skis on herself after all) how could she not be bitter and resentful?
I buzzed the door which was answered by a nurse who announced my arrival and discreetly left. I approached the bed, cap in hand. Pym was lying flat and supine, a brace on each side kept her immobile. Despite the circumstance, she was an attractive woman; only a little older than myself, with shoulder-length auburn hair that was scattered over her pillow. Her face was pale, except for some scratches; both arms were bruised and abraded. Her eyes were puffy, whether from medication or tears I didn’t know.
“Good morning.” She smiled wanly. “You’re Captain Morgan?”
“Yes.” I nodded, then asked the question I dreaded most but couldn’t not ask. “How are you feeling?”
“Not too bad, considering. They tell me my right ankle is shattered. Can’t feel it. Can’t feel anything below about here.” She pointed to a spot just above her navel. “Spinal cord’s cut through as neatly as if it were done with shears.” She made a snipping motion with her right hand. I winced inside and she must have seen it. “Don’t fret yourself; it makes me a better candidate for nerve implants. Seems the little nanobots work better on a clean break than if it were all mangled up.” She spoke with a distinct Malabaran accent. “If all goes well and my body doesn’t reject the little buggers, I should be walking by this time next year. If not, well they tell me that the new exoframes can be discreetly worn even under women’s clothing. No one need even know I’m pa-paralyzed.” Her voice broke; she put a hand over her eyes for a few moments, and then recovered. “Sorry about the litany of bad; let’s start over.” She held out her hand. “Rachel Pym (what’s left of her) at your service.” I bowed and kissed it. “Ah, a gentleman.” She smiled again, warmly this time. “Well, pull up a chair and, if you’ll hand me that tablet, we’ll get started. They’re only allowing me a few minutes.”
By the time the nurse came back and shooed me out, I had gained a good bit more insight on my officers and crew.
“Irian Vennick is ambitious but solid, pure navy through and through,” she said. “He’s not an intriguer; he’ll do what he’s trained to do to the best of his knowledge and ability. He will let you know though if he thinks you’re wrong, but not where the crew can hear.
“Tyra Ransome is a sweetheart. She looks so much like a waif that people tend to overlook her. Rest assured, she’s a treasure. Not only does she have knowledge about railguns, she was on the team that developed the big ones. If she tells you they can or can’t do something, they can or can’t do it.
“D’Aubigny likes drink, gambling and women. He actually had the balls to make a pass at me once during shore leave!” she laughed. “I took him down a few notches, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted. He’s a handsome beast. On duty however, he’s all business and he does know his business.
“Holt, our saw bones, is the ships father-figure. He’s saved more than one life already, including my own, though we were commissioned at Capricorn Station no more than six months ago.
“I can’t say I know Bathurst or Rashid. They both joined the ‘Croc’ just a few weeks ago. I’ve had no call to complain about either though, and their old captain, McEwen of the Kirov, had some nice words to say about them.
“The rest of the crew, the enlisted folks, are well trained and well behaved. How they’ll act under adversity is anybody’s guess. We were never tested together, so you’ll have to find that out for yourself.
“I see Mrs. Rostov, my nurse, at the door with a disapproving look. I fear our interview must end.” She took my hand. “Take care of my baby captain. I feel almost like I gave birth to her. She’s yours now, but I love her still. Goodbye!”
I found Ari, my bride, in a waiting room near the main entrance. She was in her hoverchair quietly reading. When I neared, she looked up and smiled at me, as though she had already sensed my presence. Perhaps she had.
“Hello, husband, how was Captain Pym?”
I sat on a bench next to her. “Very talkative, wife. She hardly let me speak at all. Regardless of what happens concerning her legs, so long as she has her tongue, she will prosper.
“Seriously though, I was impressed. She's very nice. You should perhaps visit her while I’m gone. I think you’ll like her.
“How was Jen?” I asked.
“She was in recovery and doing well. The surgeon was optimistic. I think she’ll be alright.”
We sat, holding hands and staring at one another.
“There’s a fountain out front,” I said. Wonder how long I can hold my breath.
Not long enough for what I’m thinking of doing. Wonder if we can lock ourselves in an empty room for a few minutes. Uh-oh, too late! The press gang is here!
I looked up to see a small security detail. The chief saluted. “Captain Morgan?”
I stood and answered the salute. “Yes.”
“We’re your escort. It’s time to report to the Crockett, sir.”
The chief glanced at Ari and smiled nervously. “Actually, sir, if you don’t mind and if you’d like a few more minutes with the lady here. We want to say goodbye to our old captain, if they let us. We could always say we got lost.”
I smiled back. “This is an awful big hospital.”
“Indeed it is sir.” He saluted again. “We’ll find you in just a bit.”
After the detail left, I turned to her. “I want to tell you in advance, so you won’t be offended. When I go, I won’t look back.”
“It’s a tradition, or perhaps a superstition in my family. When we part we don’t watch our loved ones out of sight. It’s bad luck.”
Her grip on my hand tightened and she nodded. “Alright, I’ll do the same. That should insure we’ll see each other again.”
“I’ll send a message at every opportunity.”
“Tell his Grace that if he doesn’t let you give a note to every courier he sends back, he’ll have to face my tail-slapping wrath!”
“I’m sure he’ll be impressed.”
“He’d better be, because I’m in earnest! Nothing is more frightening than an angry mermaid.”
“No truer words were ever spoken!” I nodded then kissed her.
She looked up at me, eyes glistening. “If Syrenkan singing could compel, I would put voice to a song that would keep you with me always!”
We were still sitting side by side when the Crockett’s people returned. I rose to accompany them. As we left, I did glance back for only a moment. Her back was already turned. I smiled to myself. She is the stronger of us two.