Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

A Call to Vengeance: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Monday, February 26, 2018 19:33 EST



    With the flurry of activity that had surrounded the brief Barcan incursion, plus all the reports and datawork afterward, it was three more days before the Committee hearings resumed. During that time Travis nurtured a private hope that they might have forgotten all about him, and that the glaring spotlight would move on.

    No such luck. On the second day of the resumed hearings, he was ordered to report for testimony.

    To find that Breakwater had managed to up the ante even higher. Not only had Travis been called, but Commodore Heissman had also been summoned to share the hot seat alongside him.

    They sat there for over half an hour, answering questions, making statements, and occasionally spotting and respectfully disagreeing with some of the Chancellor’s unstated and more slanted assumptions about the battle and the people who had waged it. For Travis, it seemed to last longer than the battle itself.

    And when the session was over, and they’d been dismissed, they finally learned what the Chancellor’s true purpose had been in all of this.

    “It seems clear, My Lords,” Breakwater intoned as Travis and Heissman collected their tablets and other gear and headed for the door, “that the Naval Academy has proven itself woefully inadequate in carrying out its chartered duties. I think it’s clear that, with a few exceptions, the officers commanding the Star Kingdom’s ships relied almost exclusively on luck to see them through.”

    Travis paused, half turning back. They’d relied on luck?

    “Let it go, Lieutenant,” Heissman murmured from beside him.

    “We need better than that,” Breakwater continued. “It is therefore my intention to petition the government for a new training facility, one that will be used exclusively for MPARS personnel.”

    Travis’s thoughts flashed back to his time at Casey-Rosewood and the Academy, and to the more recent horror stories he’d heard about how adding a trickle of MPARS personnel to the student body was already straining the Navy’s resources to the limit. If Breakwater now raided those resources for a completely new facility —

    “Because the last thing we can afford is the stale, by-the-book strategies and tactics we so recently witnessed,” Breakwater concluded.

    Travis had been fully prepared to keep his mouth shut, as Heissman had told him, and walk out of the room. But that one he couldn’t let pass.

    “Excuse me, My Lord,” he spoke up. “That’s not fair.”

    Every eye at the table turned to him. “Not fair?” Breakwater repeated, feigned puzzlement on his face. “Not fair? Tell me, Lieutenant, from your vast military knowledge and experience: how is that unfair?”

    Travis clenched his teeth. Once again, he’d opened his mouth without thinking it through. He really needed to stop doing that.

    But it was too late to back out now. “With all due respect, My Lord, the tactics of response are defined by the tactics of attack. Tamerlane chose the vectors and timing; the commanders of each Manticoran group assessed and responded with skill and efficiency.”

    “The Navy lost five ships,” Breakwater pointed out. “Tamerlane lost three. Is this your idea of efficiency?”

    “Two of those three ships were battlecruisers,” Travis countered. “I believe that gives us the win.”

    “Let me make my point clearer,” Breakwater said calmly. “The Navy lost five ships. MPARS didn’t lose any. Furthermore, it was an MPARS corvette that took out one of the enemy ships.”

    “With the aid of a Navy destroyer,” Travis said. “And in all cases the victories were due to the skill and ingenuity of the officers and crew.”

    “Indeed,” Breakwater agreed. “But again, the ingenuity of junior officers and junior crewmembers.” He lifted a hand and started ticking off fingers. “Petty Officer Charles Townsend. Senior Chief Fire Control Tech Lorelei Osterman — all right; a senior, but a senior enlisted. Ensign Fenton Locatelli. And — if I may be so bold — Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long.”

    He favored Travis with a thin smile. “But thank you, Lieutenant, for making my case for me.” The smile vanished. “And now, you and Commodore Heissman are dismissed.”



    Heissman was silent during the long walk down the corridor to the building exit. He didn’t speak again, in fact, until they were in their aircar and heading back to their shuttle. Even then he confined his conversation to the current state of Casey’s repairs and the details of upcoming work.

    For his part, Travis didn’t dare mention his stupidity in walking straight into Breakwater’s trap. But such reminders were hardly necessary. Sooner or later, he knew, Heissman would have to bring up the fiasco, possibly as part of a formal discipline, possibly as a private, off-the-record dressing down. It was certainly no more than Travis deserved.

    But it never happened. Heissman never mentioned the incident again.

    Which wasn’t to say that he was happy with how things had gone. Travis was pretty sure he wasn’t. It also wasn’t to say that he hadn’t entered something scathing into Travis’s record. Travis was almost positive he had.

    There would be consequences for handing Breakwater more ammunition in his private war against the Navy. It was just a question of what those consequences would be, and when they would begin raining down.



    “Unfortunately, Your Majesty,” Dapplelake said heavily, “for once, the man is right.”

    “Really,” King Edward said, long experience first in the Navy and then in Manticoran politics allowing him to keep his voice unemotional and unreadable. “This is almost a first for you.”

    “I know,” Dapplelake said sourly. “But if I’m going to call him when he’s wrong, I have to be fair when he’s right. And Casey-Rosewood and the Academy simply cannot accommodate the kind of personnel MPARS is going to need in the near future. We’re barely holding our own now.”

    “If we don’t give Breakwater his own training center, we’ll have to cut back on Navy personnel,” Locatelli added from the seat beside him. “And this would be the absolute worst time to do that.”

    “Agreed,” Edward said, peering down at his tablet and the figures the Defense Minister had just sent across.

    The numbers were impressive. Edward had assumed that the sheer number of deaths resulting from the battle would have a dampening effect on enlistment. It had been just the opposite. Manticore was mourning, yes; but Manticore was also mad as hell. The Navy recruiters were overwhelmed, and the data shufflers were having to scramble to process all the applicants showing up at the centers.

    It was immensely gratifying to see his subjects coming defiantly together against their unknown enemy. But the surge of emotion that was driving this wouldn’t last. As the memories of that terrible day faded, people would start returning to their lives and their hopes and their pre-battle goals. This was the time to grab as many people as possible, and everyone at the table knew it.

    So, surely, did Breakwater. MPARS enlistments weren’t nearly at the Navy’s level, but they were definitely on the rise. Now, while the warm and willing bodies were still excited at the prospect of defending the Star Kingdom, was no time to put obstacles and cooling-off time in front of them.

    “If he gets his own academy, you’ll need to supply him with some of the instructors,” Edward reminded Dapplelake. “Possibly all of them. Can you afford to pull that many people?”

    “No, but it’s not quite as bad as it looks,” Dapplelake said, tapping his tablet. Edward’s own tablet flickered, and a new set of names appeared. “Our thought is to give him the smallest number of instructors we can get away with, and then fill in whatever else is needed with Navy officers whose ships are still undergoing repairs. Most of those officers and chiefs would be somewhat underemployed anyway, so we could probably spare them. That way Breakwater gets what he wants — and what the Star Kingdom needs, I suppose — without seriously damaging the Navy’s own manpower buildup.”

    “It does seem the best of less-than-ideal options,” Edward agreed, running his eyes down the list. He recognized a fair number of the names, and he mostly remembered them as competent. Some of them would squawk, of course, particularly some of the officers from the Peerage who had gone into the Navy for the prestige and what they’d thought would be easy jobs. One, in particular, he would bet money would use the term slumming in regards to a transfer to an MPARS training facility.

    But at this point Edward didn’t care about inconvenience or bruised egos. If Manticore needed a new training facility, it would get one.

    And then, as he scrolled down the list, a message box suddenly appeared in the lower corner.

    Princess on rooftop with glider. Advise.

    Edward glared at the tablet. Again?

    Why did his daughter always do this kind of thing when Cindy wasn’t home to pin her ears back? She knew better than that — or if she didn’t, it wasn’t because she hadn’t been told often enough.

    An instant later his brief flush of anger morphed into a quiet stab of guilt. With some teens, this would be a cry for help or attention. With Sophie, it was simply a matter that she wanted to do something fun and resented the new restrictions on her life.

    As a father, Edward could understand that. Hell, he resented his new restrictions.

    As for the timing, as a former Navy officer, he also knew exactly why she pulled these stunts when her mother wasn’t at home. It was called tactics.

    Still, this had to stop. Edward had talked about it until he was blue in the face. Clearly, he hadn’t gotten through. Maybe it was time for someone else to give it a try.

    Call her Aunt Elizabeth to deal with it, he typed back.

    “Your Majesty?” Dapplelake asked.

    “My apologies,” Edward said, looking up again. “You were saying?”

    “I was just listing the facilities we could spare from Casey-Rosewood,” Dapplelake said, tapping another list to Edward’s tablet. “We’re thinking that we might be able to move some of the advanced tech classes to the Academy. It’ll take some schedule juggling, but I think we can pull it off.” He made a face. “Of course, the cadets probably won’t appreciate having to share space with enlisted. But at this point, I really don’t care.”



    “Nor should anyone,” Edward agreed. “Very well. Finalize your proposal, and we’ll let the Cabinet and Naval Affairs Committee see it.”

    He tapped his tablet to bring up a new folder. “Next topic. At last report, we’d gathered a sizeable collection of debris from the destroyed battlecruisers. I want to hear the latest analysis results. We need to know who they were, and where they came from.

    “And most importantly, what in the Star Kingdom is worth going to war over.”



    It had been a stressful day already, and Elizabeth had just settled down to a relaxing cup of tea when the message and order came down from the king.

    The Tower, as it was simply called, had been one of King Michael’s pet projects a decade ago. Designed to resemble a classic castle tower, Elizabeth had always thought it looked a bit out of place compared to the rest of the palace. But Michael had been king, so they’d humored him.

    What nobody had realized was that he was quietly building a home where he could retire after his unexpected abdication three years ago. A place that would be private and outside the palace proper but still on the grounds.

    The fact that it was the tallest building on the grounds also made it the perfect launching spot for short hang gliding flights to other parts of the grounds.

    Most of Elizabeth’s walk and elevator ride was spent wondering whether she should resent her brother’s high-handed move in ordering her to deal with her niece. Her reluctant conclusion, though, was that he was the King, and if anyone had a right to be imperious, it was him.

    She found a very unhappy Sophie glowering in the middle of the rooftop, a counter-grav belt secured around her waist and shoulders, a partially assembled hang-glider at her feet, and a pair of equally unhappy guards at her sides. “Let me guess,” Elizabeth said as she walked toward the trio. “These fine gentlemen refuse to let you jump off the roof?”

    “I’ve been hang gliding since I was ten T-years old,” Sophie said in a feminine version of the same lofty outrage Elizabeth could remember from the teen’s father when they were growing up. “That’s half my life and at least two hundred flights. I don’t think that in the past month I’ve forgotten how this works.”

    Elizabeth sighed. The girl knew perfectly well what the difference was. She was just pushing the boundaries, looking for a way out of the velvet cage that had closed inexorably around her. “You’re the heir to the Throne, Sophie,” she said gently. “You can’t participate in unnecessarily dangerous pastimes anymore.”

    “My grandfather does it,” Sophie reminded her.

    “Your grandfather abdicated three T-years ago. He’s a private citizen and can do whatever he wants.”

    “He was racing jetboats when he was still king,” Sophie countered, her tone starting to take on a belligerent edge.

    “I know,” Elizabeth said, an unpleasant shiver running through her. She would never understand the whole faster-higher-crazier fascination that afflicted her brother, father, and grandfather. For a long time she’d assumed it was a glitch in the Winton Y-chromosome; and then Sophie had popped up with it, too, which effectively scotched that theory. Nurture, not nature, presumably, and she could only thank God that she’d been immune to the influence. “What it boils down to is that a King can do what he wants, but a Crown Princess can’t. It may not be fair, but it’s how the universe works. I wish it was otherwise.”

    Sophie gave a deep sigh. “No, you don’t,” she muttered. “If you had your way, you’d ground every jetboat, hang-glider, and hunti — ” She broke off.

    “And hunting skimmer?” Elizabeth finished gently for her.

    “I’m sorry, Aunt Elizabeth,” Sophie said. The anger and frustration had vanished, replaced by guilt and shame. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” She trailed off.

    “It’s all right,” Elizabeth said, forcing away the sudden knot in her stomach. “I don’t need you to remind me that Carmichael’s gone. My whole world reminds me of it every day of my life.”

    Sophie closed her eyes, a pair of tears trickling out. “What’s the matter with our family, Aunt Elizabeth?” the girl said miserably. “My brother — your husband — so many of us. You look at our family tree — so many of us.”

    “There’s nothing wrong with the Wintons, sweetie,” Elizabeth assured her. “Most of those deaths were from the plague, and they had plenty of company among the general populace. It’s just the swing of the pendulum. Sometimes it’s someone else’s turn; sometimes it’s ours.”

    “I suppose.” Sophie looked down at the hang-glider, blinking the tears out of her eyes. “Either way, no hang-gliding.”

    “Not today,” Elizabeth said. “But don’t give up hope. Your father’s only fifty-seven T-years old, and as far as I know he’s in perfect health. He and your mother are more than capable of having another child.”

    Sophie’s face took on a slightly scandalized look. “That’s not where I was expecting this conversation to go.”

    “Well, buck up, kiddo — that’s what makes the world go round. But here’s the thing. If they have another child, all you have to do is wait a few years, abdicate in his or her favor, and be hang-gliding that same afternoon.”

    “I could really do that?” Sophie asked, frowning.

    “Your grandfather did it,” Elizabeth reminded her. “You’d just be doing it a lot sooner.”

    “I suppose,” Sophie said, frowning harder. “I don’t know. Seems a little like cheating.”

    “Oh, it’s a lot like cheating,” Elizabeth confirmed. “But if you really don’t want the job, that’s your way out.”

    The frown cleared away, and Sophie smiled puckishly.

    “And if I don’t want my name and the family’s honor in the sewer, I stick with it anyway? Is that where you’re going with all this?”

    Elizabeth shrugged.

    “I’m not going anywhere, Sophie. Really. I’m just helping you figure out what’s already in your heart and soul.”

    “Yeah.” Sophie took a deep breath, let it out in a sigh. “Thanks, Aunt Elizabeth. If my parents do have another girl, I hope they name her after you.”

    “I thought you were going to take my name,” Elizabeth reminded her. “How many Elizabeths do you want running around, anyway?”

    “Personally, I don’t think you can ever have too many.”

    “Well, thank you,” Elizabeth said. “I still think your father would have a conniption if you tried it.”

    “Enough reason right there to do it. Maybe it would encourage him and Mom to get busy making a new heir.” Sophie sighed again. “Fine. If a Crown Princess can’t hang-glide, what can she do?”

    “Well, I was just about to have a cup of tea.”

    Sophie rolled her eyes. “Terrific. Whatever. Let’s go have tea.”

    “You’ll love it,” Elizabeth promised, taking the girl’s hand and guiding her around the forlorn-looking hang-glider. “While we’re at it, I can instruct you in all the finer nuances of tea party etiquette.”

    “Right. Don’t push it.”



    Travis looked up from his orders, his heart sinking. “I don’t understand, Sir.”

    “The orders seem pretty self-explanatory, Lieutenant,” Heissman said, his face an unreadable mask. “Three months from now you’re slated to be transferred to Admiralty Building to serve as Beginning Tactics instructor for the new MPARS officers’ section.”

    Travis looked back down at his orders. So that was it. After everything that had happened — after the Secour pirate attack and Tamerlane’s invasion — after watching friends and shipmates die horrible deaths — he was to be summarily taken off Casey. And not just put on instruction duty, but to be teaching MPARS weenies.

    All because he hadn’t had the sense to keep his mouth shut when Chancellor Breakwater started dumping on those same friends and shipmates.

    “Is there — ?” He broke off. Of course there was no chance for appeal. BuPers giveth, and BuPers taketh away, the aphorism went; but BuPers never let junior officers argue their decisions. “Yes, Sir,” he said instead, wondering if he should say something about how he would miss serving aboard Damocles. Probably not.

    “Until then, of course, you’ll still be one of my officers,” Heissman reminded him, “and you’ll be expected to carry out your duties with all due diligence and enthusiasm.”

    “Of course, Sir,” Travis said.

    “Good,” Heissman said. “Then there’s just one more thing, Lieutenant.” He handed Travis a hard copy.

    Frowning, Travis took it and started reading.

    And felt his eyes widening.

    “From Admiral (ret) Thomas P. Cazenestro, First Lord of the Admiralty, Royal Manticoran Navy, to Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long, Royal Manticoran Navy. Sir: you are hereby invited to proceed to the Royal Palace on the Sixteenth Day, Fourteenth Month, Year Seventy-Four After Landing at eleven o’clock to attend the Monarch’s Thanks.

    Travis looked up again, his eyes still wide. Heissman still had that unreadable expression, but there was now a hint of a smile tugging at his lips. “Cat got your tongue, Travis?” the captain asked mildly.

    With an effort, Travis found his voice. “Sir — I’m sorry, but I was under the impression that it was only the senior officers from each ship who were invited.”

    “They were,” Heissman confirmed. “But as you see, our invitations included one for you.” He raised his eyebrows. “Apparently, there are some people who want to meet you.”

    Travis opened his mouth. Closed it again. As had happened so often in the past, he had no idea what to say to that.

    “Oh,” he said instead.

    “Just make sure you’re at the Palace on time.” Heissman lifted a finger. “And if you happen to run into Chancellor Breakwater, do us all a favor. Make an excuse, and walk away. Better yet, just walk away.”

    “Yes, Sir,” Travis said with a sigh. “I will.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image