Outward Bound
Chapter 6

Copyright© 2020 by UtIdArWa

The Congressional meeting hall was filled. Both the ships Congress and the Mother’s Council were in attendance. While this hadn’t been a required meeting, if you didn’t have duties, you were expected to be there. There was a low rumble of conversation.

From the door to the side of the stage, the provost marshal came in. “Ladies and gentlemen Grandmother Seward.” everyone stood and faced the door. Grandmother Seward came into the room. There was quiet applause that quickly ended when she took her place at the podium.

“Good morning, everybody. I called this meeting to introduce our new Captain. As you are all aware, Captain Greene has retired. Before he left, he offered his advice on a replacement. I have talked to that person and found him more than qualified to assume command.” she turned to me and beckoned me forward. “Ladies and Gentleman Captain Henry Sullivan.”

As I stepped up to the podium, there was some polite scattered applause. “Thank you, Madam Grandmother.”

I stood there for a moment and surveyed the crowd smiling. “It has always surprised me on how a new commander is greeted. Sometimes politely, sometimes rudely. But usually, on that first meeting, there is suspicion and fear. Fear of change. A suspicion that the new boss will find them lacking and send them down the road.”

“I have no intention to cause a wholesale clearing of the deck. I will, however, be looking at each and every one of you. If you are doing your job satisfactorily, you’ll have nothing to worry about.”

“Let me assure you that my sole goal is for the safety and welfare of the ship’s crew. And the safe operation of this ship. I’ll have little tolerance for anything that will jeopardize either.”

“I recognize that there are two levels of authority here. There is a social and organizational authority. With Grandmother Seward as its leader. There is also an operational and defensive authority. That authority rests with me. No one else. If you have an objection to an order, I expect you to carry out that order. Immediately and completely. You can complain later, but the order will be carried out.”

A woman in the second row stood up. Everyone in the room immediately recognized who she was. There was an air of anticipation in the room.

She was the lady from the Mother’s Council. I said nothing but looked at her and waited. And waited. Finally I said, “I hadn’t planned on a question and answer session. But you seem to have something to say. Common courtesy would be that you identify yourself. I’m waiting.”

Obviously, she wasn’t used to being spoken to this way. An air of arrogance had replaced her earlier demeanor.

“Captain Sullivan I am Emily Johnson of the Mother’s Council. What are your qualifications to command this ship? It has come to my attention that you were expelled from the Federal Navy for insubordination and other offenses. Why should we allow you to board our ship, let alone command it.?

The room was deathly quiet. When Grandmother started to rise, I motioned for her to stay.

Facing away from Johnson, I addressed the room. “Let’s get something straight right now. I am here for an introduction, not an interview. I am not looking for your approval. I answer to one person and one person only. That is Grandmother Seward. She hired me. Note that I said she hired me, past tense. Not you, not the Mother’s Council. And she’s the only one that can fire me.” I turned to Agnes. “How about it, Ma’am? am I the Captain of this ship?”

She was grinning like the Cheshire cat. “Yes, Captain, I hired you. And as long as I am Grandmother, you’ll stay Captain.”

Turning back, I focused on Johnson. “My biography is on the ship’s network. Everyone can access it, including you lady. I have nothing to hide, nor am I ashamed of anything I have done.” looking up, I addressed the room. “Let me repeat this, the safety and welfare of the ship’s crew. And the safe operation of this ship is my main concern. I’m willing to take suggestions that are politely offered. But the final decision will rest on my shoulders and no others.”

“Now we have wasted too much of the ship’s time as it is. I will be calling in the various department and division heads for one on one meetings. We will discuss your wants and needs as far as the ship goes. Be prepared, people. I ask tough questions and don’t tolerate a lot of BS. Now,” turning to Grandmother, “With your permission Ma’am?” she nodded a smile on her lips. Turning back to the crowd. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this meeting is concluded and you are dismissed.” I turned and unnecessarily helped the old lady stand up and escorted her out of the room.

When the door closed, the room erupted. Some voices were angry, others were amused. But most of the people were quiet and thoughtful as they filed from the room.

Emily Johnson and two of her followers stood off to the side of the room. “I don’t like this, Emily. This guy is too smart. I don’t think we can handle him as we did with Greene.”

“Don’t worry about it, Susan” Emily smiled. “Every man can be handled. You just need the right grip.”

The third member of the group spoke up. “I’d be really careful, Emily. His wife is no fool, either.”

Johnson glared at her. “Jessica, give me some credit I’ve been working on this for years. Now that it’s almost in our hands, I’m not about to foul it up.”

She noticed that one of the cleaning crew seemed to be paying too close of attention to their group. She smiled a blazing smile at him. He looked confused, and shyly returned the smile. Without moving her lips, she murmured, “Let’s take this somewhere else. There are too many ears around.”

She turned to the nearest door and started striding from the room. Her minions close on her heels.

After leaving the room, Emily asked, “Who was that boy listening in on our conversation? what do we know about him?”

Nobody admitted knowing. “Susan,” Emily said, “Found out who he is? his family, everything. Get back to me as quickly as you can.”

“Yes, Aunty Johnson.” she left the group and returned to the conference room.

When Susan found the team leader of the cleaning crew, she started grilling him on the snoop.

Bud Finley was the oldest member of the cleaning crew. Normally he would have been on the serving staff, but a complaint from one of the high and mighty ladies on the Mother’s Council had him demoted to dishwasher. This had been over a year ago. The complaint was that he had deliberately served her cold soup and then was rude to her when she asked for it to be warmed up. What had really happened was that she had scolded him three times about her soup. Bud had not been rude, but the third time he brought it back, he accidentally spilled some. The spill wasn’t deliberate and didn’t even land on the lady. His defense wasn’t enough. She was a member of the Council, after all.

The head steward had taken the easy route and removed Bud from the serving staff and put him on the dishwashing crew. He told Bud, “Don’t worry about it, kid. I’m doing this for your benefit. If you are out of sight, you’ll be out of mind. Keep your nose clean with me, and I’ll move you up when I can. Then when you hit 18, you can test for some other job and then move on with your life.”

Bud had taken that advice. He had worked hard. Long hot and dirty hours. And eventually, he had moved up to bussing tables and then to the boss of the cleaning crew. Now he was a month away from his 18th and had already scheduled his vocational exams. His ambition was to qualify for pilot training.

Bud’s crew was about halfway finished with their job, and Bud kept an eye on things while helping where needed. When one of the fancy ladies that hung around the Mother’s Council came back into the room, he recognized her as one of the flocks hanging around Aunty Emily. And Aunty Emily was the very person who had complained about Bud.

She looked around the room and spotted Bud. “Oh lordy,” he thought, “What is this about? Just another month, that’s all I needed.”

As the fancy lady came striding towards him, Bud could almost feel the deck shuddering. As she came up to Bud, she put her hands on her hips. “Boy, I need to talk to you.”

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