The Thirteenth Man - J. L. Doty Page 0,1

that left him gasping for breath. Back home, a few days in an infirmary and he’d be as good as new. But here, Charlie gave him no more than another month or two before tuberculosis finished him. Roger rested for a moment before continuing. “That’s fifty to a hundred light-years. That’s the farthest they’ve ever moved us.”

“Well, wherever they’re taking us, we’re there. We down-transited—I make it six, seven hours ago.”

Roger accepted that without question. They’d all learned long ago to accept Charlie’s uncanny ability to sense transition, an ability none of them shared. “Maybe just a nav fix, Commander.”

Charlie shook his head. In twenty-seven days he hadn’t been able to stop making useless gestures in the dark. “No, we haven’t up-transited, and a nav fix wouldn’t take more than an hour.”

“Guess we’ve come to our new home, huh, Commander?”

Charlie’s leg started throbbing again. The pain was relatively manageable at this stage, but after forty odd days of slow, steady deterioration Charlie knew the pattern well. The pain and fever would both steadily grow in intensity, and in another hour or two it would drive him into a semi-comatose delirium. Roger wouldn’t admit it, but Charlie knew from the dreams that haunted him at those times that he ranted and raved at unseen ghosts. “Once they park this boat,” Charlie said, “I want you to call a meeting of the executive staff.”

“Sure, Commander. What for?”

“It’s past time we chose a new CO.”

“No way, Commander. You’re doing just fine. As soon as your leg’s—”

Charlie cut him off. “How often am I lucid now? One, maybe two hours a day. And it gets worse every day.”

“But the immune augs are helping—”

“The immune augmentation treatments are six years old. Too old to cure gangrene, and not old enough to let it have me quick and clean. They’re just prolonging the agony now.”

Roger answered with another fit of coughing.

“Shit, Roger. I’m not even going to outlast you. What have I got? Another five or ten days, maybe twenty on the outside?”

Roger got his coughing under control and sighed heavily. “It could be worse—you could be de Lunis.”

Charlie chuckled. That old, childish saying had become their motto.

“Who’s it going to be, Commander?”

Charlie looked at Roger, could see nothing in the dark, but Roger seemed to know his thoughts. “Not me, Commander. Hell, you said it yourself. I’m barely gonna outlast you.”

“What about Darmczek?”

“He’s an old warhorse, Commander.”

“He’s got the rank, and the respect of the men.”

In his mind’s eye Charlie could almost picture Roger shaking his head, matted, lice-infested hair hanging well past his shoulders, beard halfway down his chest. “Hell, Charlie, he’s got rank over you, but that doesn’t make him our CO. Everyone knows that. Even he knows it, and he’s not ashamed of it either. Darmczek’s a good CO on a fighting ship, but this is a prisoner-of-war camp. Darmczek won’t understand how to fight this enemy. I grant you, the CO’s got to be someone who knows how to fight a ship. Otherwise, he won’t command the respect of these men. But what we need now is someone who knows how to keep us alive with this shit.” Roger gave his chains a bitter jerk. Charlie felt it, and no doubt other men along the chain felt it also. “What about Andrews, Commander?”

Charlie had been considering that option for days now. Seth Andrews had been XO on one of Cesare’s ships and had proven he could command. “Seth is right for the job, but he doesn’t have the rank, and after I’m dead that’ll just put him and Darmczek at odds.”

“There’s a way to handle that too, Commander.”

“And that is?”

Charlie could sense Roger’s hesitation. “You could give him a promotion, give him the rank he needs. Decree it . . . as Charles, son of old Cesare.”

“Absolutely not. I can’t do that.”

“Look, Commander, I know we’re not supposed to say it out loud—or even admit we know it, or even think it—but we all know he’s your father, whether he’s acknowledged you or not. We also know you’re his favorite, and we know when he needs a military solution he looks to you first, and—”

“But to use his name that way . . . that would be illegal.”

Roger laughed into the darkness. “Ya, it would. So are you worried after you’re dead they’re going to dig you up to hang you?”

Charlie laughed at that. “You’ve got a point. And Andrews is the right choice.”

“Then it’s settled.”

“Ya, I guess so. But I