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Mission of Honor: Chapter Five
Last updated: Friday, April 2, 2010 19:56 EDT
January, 1922, Post Diaspora
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this . . . .”
– Admiral Patricia Givens, RMN
CO, Office of Naval Intelligence
Captain (JG) Ginger Lewis was not filled with confidence as she headed down the passageway aboard HMSS Weyland towards Rear Admiral Tina Yeager’s office. It wasn’t because she felt any worry over her ability to discharge her new duties. It wasn’t even because she’d started her career as enlisted, without so much as dreaming she might attain her present rank. For that matter, it wasn’t even because she’d just been assigned to the Royal Manticoran Navy’s primary R&D facility when all her actual experience had been acquired in various engineering departments aboard deployed starships.
No, it was because she hadn’t seen a single happy face since she’d arrived aboard Weyland half an hour before. Most people, she suspected, would have felt at least a qualm or two at being the new kid, just reporting in, when something had so obviously hit the rotary air impeller.
I wonder if it’s just over here in R&D or if Aubrey and Paulo are about to get the same treatment? she wondered. Then she snorted. Well, even if they are, Paulo has Aubrey to take care of him.
The thought made her smile as she remembered Aubrey Wanderman’s first deployment. Which, by the strangest turn of events, had also been her first deployment. She’d been quite a few years older than him, but they’d completed their naval training school assignments together, and she’d sort of taken him under her wing. He’d needed it, too. It was hard to remember now how young he’d been or that it had all happened almost fourteen T-years years ago. Sometimes it seemed like only yesterday, and sometimes it seemed like something that had happened a thousand years ago, to someone else entirely. But she remembered how shiny and new he’d been, how disappointed he’d been at being assigned to “only” a “merchant cruiser” . . . until, at least, he’d discovered that the captain of the merchant cruiser in question was then-Captain Honor Harrington.
Her smile faded just a bit as she remembered the clique of bullies and would-be deserters who’d made Aubrey’s life a living hell, at least until Captain Harrington had found out about it. And the way she’d found out about it had been when their attempt to murder a certain acting petty officer by the name of Ginger Lewis had failed and Aubrey, who’d fallen under the influence of Chief Petty Officer Horace Harkness and HMS Wayfarer’s Marine detachment, had beaten their ringleader half to death with his bare hands. She was still a bit surprised she’d survived the sabotaged software of her EVA propulsion pack, and she knew she hadn’t emerged from the experience unscarred. Even now, all these years later, she hated going EVA — which, unfortunately, came the way of the engineering department even more than anyone else.
Still, there was a world — a universe — of difference between that once-bullied young man and Senior Chief Petty Officer Aubrey Wanderman.
And, she thought a bit enviously, neither he nor Paulo is going to have to report in to someone with the towering seniority of a flag officer. Lucky bastards.
Her woolgathering had carried her successfully down the passage to Rear Admiral Yaeger’s door. Now, however, she bade a regretful farewell to its distraction and stepped through the open door.
The yeoman seated behind the desk in the outer office looked up at her, then rose respectfully.
“Captain Lewis,” Ginger replied. “I’m reporting aboard, Chief.”
“Yes, Ma’am. That would be Delta Department, wouldn’t it, Ma’am?”
“Yes, it would.” Ginger eyed him speculatively. Any flag officer’s yeoman worth her salt was going to keep up with the details of her admiral’s appointments and concerns. Keeping track of the comings and goings of officers who hadn’t even known themselves the day before that they were about to be assigned to Weyland was a bit more impressive than usual, however.
“I thought so, Ma’am.” The yeoman’s expression didn’t actually change by a single millimeter, yet somehow he managed to radiate a sense of over-tried patience — or perhaps a better word would have been exasperation. Fortunately, none of it seemed to be directed towards Ginger.
“I’m afraid the Admiral’s unavailable at the moment, Ma’am,” the yeoman continued. “And so is Lieutenant Weaver, her flag lieutenant. It’s, ah, an unscheduled meeting with the station commander.”
Ginger managed to keep her eyes from widening. An “unscheduled meeting” with Weyland’s CO, was it? No wonder she’d sensed a certain tension in the air.
“I see . . . Chief Timmons,” she said after a moment, reading the yeoman’s nameplate. “Would it happen we have any idea when Admiral Yeager might be free?”
“Frankly, Ma’am, I’m afraid it might be quite some time.” Timmons’ expression remained admirably grave. “That’s why I wanted to confirm that you were the officer Delta’s been expecting.”
“And since I am?”
“Well, Ma’am, I thought in that case you might go down to Delta and report in to Captain Jefferson. He’s Delta Division’s CO. I thought perhaps he might be able to start getting you squared away, and then you could report to the Admiral when she’s free again.”
“Do you know, Chief, I think that sounds like a perfectly wonderful idea,” Ginger agreed.
“Well, that was an interesting cluster fuck, wasn’t it?”
Vice Admiral Claudio Faraday, the commanding officer of HMSS Weyland, was known for a certain pithiness. He also had a well-developed sense of humor, although, Tina Yeager noted, there was no trace of it in his voice at the moment.
“Would it happen,” Faraday continued, “that tucked away somewhere in your subordinate officers’ files, between their voluminous correspondence, their instruction manuals, their schedules, their research notes, their ham sandwiches, and their entertainment chips, they actually possess a copy of this station’s emergency evacuation plan?”
He looked back and forth between Yaeger and Rear Admiral Warren Trammell, her counterpart on the fabrication and industrial end of Weyland’s operations. Trammell didn’t look much happier than Yaeger felt, but neither was foolish enough to answer his question, and Faraday smiled thinly.
“I only ask, you understand,” he continued almost affably, “because our recent exercise would seem to indicate that either that they don’t have a copy of the plan, or else none of them can read. And I hate to think Her Majesty’s Navy is entrusting its most important and secure research programs to a bunch of illiterates.”
Yaeger stirred in her chair, and Faraday’s eyes swooped to her.
“Sir,” she said, “first, let me say I have no excuse for my department’s performance. Second, I’m fully aware my people performed much more poorly than Admiral Trammell’s.”
“Oh, don’t take all the credit, Admiral,” Faraday said with another smile. “Your people may have performed more poorly than Admiral Trammell’s, but given the underwhelming level of Admiral Trammell’s people’s performance, I very much doubt that anyone could have performed ‘much more poorly’ than they did.”
“Sir,” Captain Marcus Howell said diffidently, and all three of the flag officers looked in his direction. Aside from Yaeger’s and Trammell’s flag lieutenants — whose massively junior status insulated them from the direct brunt of Admiral Faraday’s monumental unhappiness — he was the junior officer in the compartment. He was also, however, Faraday’s chief of staff.
“Yes, Marcus? You have something you’d care to add?”
“Well, Sir, I only wanted to observe that this was the first emergency evacuation simulation Weyland’s conducted in the last two T-years. Under the circumstances, it’s probably not really all that surprising people were a little . . . rusty.”
“‘Rusty’,” Faraday rolled the word across his tongue, then snorted harshly. “If we use the term in the sense that a hatch sealed shut by atmospheric oxidation is ‘rusty,’ I suppose it’s appropriate.” The smile he bestowed upon Howell should have lowered the temperature in his office by at least three degrees, but then he grimaced. “Still, I take your point.”
He gave himself a shake, then turned his attention back to Yaeger and Trammell.
“Don’t think for a moment that I’m any happier about this than I was ten seconds ago. Still, Marcus does have a point. I’m not a great believer in the theory that extenuating circumstances excuse an officer’s failures where his duty is concerned, but I suppose it’s a bit early to start keelhauling people, too. So perhaps we should simply begin all over again from a mutual point of agreement that everyone’s performance in the simulation was . . . suboptimal.”
In fact, Yaeger knew, it had been far, far worse than “suboptimal.” If she were going to be honest about it — which she really would have preferred avoiding if at all possible — his initial, delightfully apt choice of noun had much to recommend it as a factual summation.
As Howell had just pointed out, emergency evacuation exercises had not been a priority of Rear Admiral Colombo, Faraday’s immediate predecessor. For that matter, they hadn’t been a high priority for the station commander before that, either. On the other hand, that CO had been a Janacek appointee, and nothing had been very high on his priority list. By contrast, Colombo possessed enormous energy and drive, which helped explain why Admiral Hemphill had just recalled him to the capital planet as her second-in-command at BuWeaps. But, Yaeger admitted, Colombo had been a tech weenie, like her. She didn’t think he’d ever held starship command, and he’d been involved in the R&D side for over thirty T-years. He’d been conscientious about the administrative details of his assignment, but his real interest had been down in the labs or over in the fabrication units where prototype pieces of hardware were produced.
“Sir,” she said now, “I’m serious about apologizing for my people’s performance. Yes, Captain Howell has a point — it’s not something we’ve exercised at. But the truth is, Sir, that an awful lot of my people suffer from what I can only call tunnel vision. They’re really intensely focused on their projects. Sometimes, to be honest, I’m not sure they’re even aware the rest of the universe is out there at all.” She shook her head. “I know at least one of my division heads — I’d prefer not to say which — heard the evacuation alarm and just turned it off so it wouldn’t disturb his train of thought while he and two of his lead researchers were discussing the current problem. I’ve already, ah, counseled him on that decision, but I’m afraid it was fairly typical. Which is my fault, not theirs.”
“It’s your fault, Admiral, in the sense that you’re ultimately responsible for the actions of all personnel under your command. That doesn’t excuse their actions — or inaction. However, judging by the overall level of performance, I’d have to relieve three-quarters of the officers aboard this station if I were going to hammer everyone who’d screwed up. So we’re not going to do that.”
Faraday paused, letting the silence stretch out, until Trammell took pity on his colleague and broke it.
“We’re not, Sir?” he asked.
“No, Admiral,” Faraday said. “Instead, we’re going to fix the problem. I’m afraid it’s probably symptomatic of other problems we’re going to find, and — to be fair, Admiral Yeager — I can actually understand why a lot of the R&D people think the rest of us are playing silly games that only get in the way of the people — them — doing serious work. From a lot of perspectives, they’ve got a point, really, when you come right down to it.”
Yaeger was actually a bit surprised to hear Faraday admit that. Claudio Faraday was about as far removed from Rear Admiral Thomas Colombo as it was possible for a human being to be. He had effectively zero background on the research side. In fact, he was what Admiral Hemphill had taken to calling a “shooter,” not a researcher, and Yaeger felt positive he would rather have been commanding a battle squadron than babysitting the Navy’s “brain trust.”
But that, she was beginning to suspect, might actually be the very reason he’d been chosen for his new assignment. It was more than possible Colombo had been recalled to BuWeaps not simply because his talents were needed there, but because certain recent events had convinced someone at the Admiralty house that HMSS Weyland needed the talents of someone like Claudio Faraday equally badly.
“I fully realize I’ve been aboard for less than one T-week,” Faraday continued. “And I realize my credentials on the R&D side are substantially weaker even than Admiral Trammell’s. But there’s a reason we have an emergency evacuation plan. In fact, there’s an even better reason for us to have one than for Hephaestus or Vulcan to have one. The same reason, in a lot of ways, that we back all of our data up down on the planetary surface every twelve hours. There is one tiny difference between our data backups and the evac plan, however.” He smiled again, a bit less thinly than before. “It would be just a bit more difficult to reconstitute the researchers than their research if both of them got blown to bits.”
The silence was much more intense this time. Four months ago, Yaeger might have been inclined to dismiss Faraday’s concerns. But that had been before the Battle of Manticore.
“We all know the new system-defense pods have been deployed to protect Weyland,” the vice admiral went on after a moment. “For that matter, we all know the Peeps got hammered so hard it’s not really likely they’re going to be poking their noses back into Manticoran space anytime soon. But nobody thought it was very likely they’d do it in the first place, either. So however much it may inconvenience our personnel, I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist we get this little procedural bump smoothed out. I’d appreciate it if you’d make your people aware that I’m not exactly satisfied with their performance in this little simulation. I assure you, I’ll be making that point to them myself, as well.”
He smiled again. Neither Yaeger nor Trammell would ever have mistaken the expression for a sign of pleasure.
“What you are not going to tell them, however, is that I have something just a little more drastic in mind for them. Simulations are all well and good, and I’m perfectly prepared to use them as training tools. After all, that’s what they’re intended for. But as I’m sure you’re both aware, it’s always been the Navy’s policy to conduct live-fire exercises, as well as simulations. Which is what we’re going to do, too.”
Yaeger managed to keep her dismay from showing, although she was fairly certain Faraday knew exactly what she was feeling. Still, she couldn’t help a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach as she thought about the gaping holes the chaos of an actual physical evacuation of the station was going to tear in her R&D schedules.
“I fully realize,” Faraday continued as if he’d been a Sphinxian treecat reading her mind, “that an actual evacuation will have significant repercussions on the station’s operations. Because I am, this isn’t something I’m approaching lightly. It’s not something I want to do — it’s only something we have to do. And because we not only need to test our actual performance but convince some of your ‘focused’ people this is something to take seriously, not just something designed to interrupt their work schedules, we’re not going to tell them it’s coming. We’ll go ahead and run the additional simulations. I’m sure they’ll expect nothing less out of their new, pissed-off, pain-in-the-ass CO, and they’ll bitch and moan about it with all the creativity of really smart people. I don’t care about that, as long as they keep it to themselves and don’t force me to take note of it. But, hopefully, when we hit them with the actual emergency order — when it’s not a simple simulation — they’ll at least have improved enough for us to get everyone off the station without someone getting killed because he forgot to secure his damned helmet.”
Captain Ansten FitzGerald tipped back in his chair as Commander Amal Nagchaudhuri stepped into the briefing room with an electronic tablet tucked under his arm.
“Have a seat,” the captain invited, pointing at a chair across the table from his own, and Nagchaudhuri settled into it with a grateful sigh. FitzGerald smiled and shook his own head.
“Are you anywhere near a point where you can actually sit down for a couple of hours with a beer?” he asked, and Nagchaudhuri chuckled sourly.
It had never occurred to the tall, almost albino-pale commander that he might find himself the executive officer of one of the Royal Manticoran Navy’s most powerful heavy cruisers. He was a communications specialist, and posts like that usually went to officers who’d come up through the tactical track, although that tradition had been rather eroded over the past couple of decades by the Navy’s insatiable appetite for experienced personnel. On the other hand, very few XOs had inherited their positions under circumstances quite like his, which had quite a bit to do with his current weariness.
“By my calculations, it won’t be more than another T-year before I can take a break long enough for that, Sir,” he replied. “Ginger was one hell of an engineer, but we’re still finding things that managed to get broken somehow.” He shrugged. “Most of what we’re finding now is little crap, of course. None of it’s remotely vital. I imagine that’s one reason Ginger hadn’t already found it and dealt with it before they transferred her out. But I’m still annotating her survey for the yard dogs. And the fact that BuPers is pilfering so enthusiastically isn’t helping one damned bit.”
FitzGerald nodded in understanding and sympathy. He’d held Nagchaudhuri’s position until Hexapuma’s return from the Talbott Quadrant. He was intimately familiar with the problems the commander was experiencing and discovering, and the XO’s frustration came as no surprise — not least because they’d all anticipated getting the ship into the yard dogs’ hands so quickly.
FitzGerald’s eyes darkened at that thought. Of course they’d expected that! After all, none of them were psychic, so none of them had realized the Battle of Manticore was going to come roaring out of nowhere only five days after their return. Hexapuma’s damages had kept her on the sidelines, a helpless observer, and as incredibly frustrating as that had been at the time, it was probably also the only reason Fitzgerald, Nagchaudhuri, and the cruiser’s entire complement were still alive. That cataclysmic encounter had wreaked havoc on a scale no one had ever truly envisioned. It had also twisted the Navy’s neat, methodical schedules into pretzels . . . and the horrendous personnel losses had quite a bit to do with how Nagchaudhuri had ended up confirmed as Hexapuma’s executive officer, too.
“Well,” he said, shaking off the somberness memories of the battle always produced, “I’ve got some good news for once. Rear Admiral Truman says she’s finally got a space for us in R&R.”
“She does?” Nagchaudhuri straightened, expression brightening. Rear Admiral Margaret Truman, a first cousin of the rather more famous Admiral Alice Truman, was the commanding officer of Her Majesty’s Space Station Hephaestus, and HMSS Hephaestus happened to be home to the Repair and Refit command to which Hexapuma’s repair had been assigned.
“She does indeed. Captain Fonzarelli will have docking instructions for us by tomorrow morning, and the tugs will be ready for us at oh-nine-hundred.”
“That’s going to piss Aikawa off,” Nagchaudhuri observed with a grin, and FitzGerald laughed.
“I imagine he’ll get over it eventually. Besides, he was due for a little leave.”
Ensign Aikawa Kagiyama had been one of Hexapuma’s midshipmen on her previous deployment. In fact, he was the only one still aboard her. Or, rather, assigned to her, since he wasn’t onboard at the moment.
“I guess we can always ask Hephaestus to delay our repairs a little longer. Long enough for him to get back from Weyland for the big moment, I mean,” Nagchaudhuri suggested.
“The hell we can!” Fitzgerald snorted. “Not that I don’t appreciate the way he looked after me after Monica, or anything. I’m sure he’ll be disappointed, but if we delay this any longer just so he can be here for it, his loyal crewmates would probably stuff him out an open air lock!”
“Yeah, but he’s fairly popular. They might let them have a helmet, first,” Nagchaudhuri replied with an even broader grin.
“And they might not, too.” Fitzgerald shook his head. “No, we’ll just let this be his little surprise when he gets back.”
“I hope he’s enjoying himself,” Nagchaudhuri said more seriously. “He’s a good kid. He works hard, and he really came through at Monica.”
“They were all good kids,” FitzGerald agreed. “And I’ll admit, I worry about him a little. It’s not natural for the XO to have to order an ensign to take leave. Especially not someone with his record from the Island!”
“He has been well behaved since we got back from Monica,” Nagchaudhuri acknowledged. “You don’t think he’s sick, do you?”
“No, I think it’s just losing all his accomplices.” Fitzgerald shrugged. “With Helen off as the Skipper’s new flag lieutenant, and with Paulo assigned to Weyland with Ginger, he’s sort of at loose ends when it comes to getting into trouble. For which we can all be grateful.”
“That depends. Are we going to get a fresh complement of snotties for him to provide with a suitably horrible example?”
“I doubt it.” Fitzgerald shrugged again. “Given the fact that we’re going to be sitting in a repair dock for the next several months, I imagine they’ll be looking for something a bit more active for snotty cruises. Besides, even if we get a fresh batch, he’s an ensign now. I think he’d actually feel constrained to set them a good example.”
“Somehow I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the concept of Aikawa being a good example for anyone — intentionally, I mean. At least without having Helen around to threaten him if he doesn’t!”
“Oh, come now!” Fitzgerald waved a chiding finger at the XO. “You know perfectly well that Helen never threatened him. Well, not too often, anyway.”
“Only because she didn’t have to make it explicit,” Nagchaudhuri countered. “One raised eyebrow, and he knew what was coming.”
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