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Sailor's Secret

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Kate didn't sleep very well, first rotation aboard the new Hammersley. Not that Armidale-class wasn't a big step up in every respect. If you could say that about a small boat, anyway.

Deck crew were over the moon: faster boats, bigger guns, they were high on life. Buffer's particular brand of poker-faced glee got wickeder every day. Swain, purring over the posh layout belowdecks, was all but pornographic, especially during first watch.

Which, granted, amused the Boss and kept the juniors alert and mostly in line and, truth be told, tested Kate's own reserve — which they knew, especially Buffer, and used with malice aforethought, goading her to crack a smile. Amateurs.

Bridge crew were... fine. Out to prove they could move with the times, though Nav muttered about out-of-profile tactical solutions (which worried Kate, as well: the deeper draft would get them into trouble one day). Ro really, really didn't like working on the bridge (a few more weeks of Buffer's inventively awful duty rosters would solve that). And Charge never shut up about Bill bloody Gates.

And it felt strange--but that was part of the deal, when you traded up. Not a huge difference, just enough to make the body uneasy, and Kate was damned if she'd spend even a single watch hanging over the rail like she had when she'd posted in.

She swallowed another mouthful of bottled water and sat up a bit straighter in the cabin's only chair. She'd head up top in a few minutes. The problem was temporary, and meanwhile she wasn't the only officer looking less than petal-fresh. Even mighty Mike Flynn--

Nav cruised into the cabin and commenced rooting around in her kit-bag. "Here," she said, lobbing over a small box. SAILOR'S SECRET, it read.

"My dad swore by it," said Nav, and Kate held back a rebuff because that smile still wasn't much in evidence, and if LT Nikki Caetano lately found it helpful to remind herself where she came from, her XO was all in favor. However annoyed by the presumption she might otherwise have been.

"Ordered it by the crate," said Nav. "It's just powdered ginger-root, but I don't think he's had to pay for a bottle of his favorite grog since he retired." The smile got bigger. "Generations of cadets, I swear, and all of 'em too grateful to be embarrassed. Been meaning to give you a box, in case anyone's short on your watch."

Her voice was light but Kate didn't think Nikki'd have done this six months ago, this handing-on of a family tradition. She turned the box over, wondering what inscrutable test she'd belatedly passed.

It was only Hammersley's mild bounce as it crossed the swell that was making Kate feel this way: a bit shaky, inclined to swallow. She'd never had a moment's twinge aboard the Anzac--never had a lot of things that were SOP these days. Her eyes burned a bit.

"Thanks," she said, and refused to blink. Nav stared back at her and Kate downed an impulse to ask her more about her father, get her talking. She was due on the bridge and it was probably over the line anyway. "I'll be sure to replace it next rotation."

Nav waved that away and disappeared again, still smiling. Kate slipped the flat foil-packs from the box into a pocket. No point trying them now; maybe when she came off watch. But Spider might need them. He'd been a bit closemouthed, earlier.

She stepped into the passageway and found herself inhaling something incredible, something miraculous. Her head was clearing for what felt like the first time in days. The queasiness was fading. She was hungry. And Bomber was making gingersnaps.

Kate took another deep breath. Small boats, she thought. She headed above, ignoring Buffer's grin as he brushed past her, homing for the mess. He'd bring her up a few. He'd better.

Horses for courses, she thought, and small boats for her.