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Chain of Command: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Monday, August 14, 2017 20:20 EDT



7 December 2133 (two days later) (fourteen days from K’tok orbit)


    USS Puebla, DDR-11

    7 December 2133

    LCDR Delmar P. Huhn, USN


    LT Samuel M. Bitka, USNR


    Uniform of the Day Officers: White shipsuit

    Chiefs: Khaki shipsuit

    All Others: Blue shipsuit

    0000 Mid Watch drills and training

    0500 Breakfast

    0530 BLUE Watch relieves RED, LT Goldjune OOD, LT(JG) Ramsey DEO

    0600 Morning Colors

    0630 Morning drills and training

    1100 Lunch

    1130 WHITE watch relieves BLUE, ENS Lee OOD, LT(JG) Sung DEO

    1200 Afternoon drills and training

    1700 Supper

    1730 RED watch relieves WHITE, LT(JG) Filipenko OOD, LT Hennessey DEO

    1800 Boat’s company muster for inspection

    1830 All hands General Quarters. Anticipated rendezvous with Task Force 1

    2000 Anticipated stand-down from General Quarters

    2300 Late Supper

    2330 BLUE watch relieves RED, LT Goldjune OOD, LT(JG) Ramsey DEO


  1. MORNING COLORS: All hands not on watch will assemble for morning colors. Colors will be presented at half-mast in honor of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
  2. DRILLS: Departments will drill on-duty watch personnel as follows

OPERATIONS: Navigation by HRVS optics only

    Reestablishing lost communication tight link in battle situation

    TACTICAL: Detection of hostile craft with HRVS optics using stellar occlusion method

    Simulated target engagement at high closing rate vectors

    ADMIN: Casualty clearance

    ENGINEERING: No drills. All available personnel tasked to damage repair

  1. TRAINING: Department heads will insure personnel coming off watch immediately spend at least one hour on review training on their MOS and one hour mastering their next grade or a parallel MOS in their department. Review. Train up. Train across.
  2. TASK FORCE RENDEZVOUS: All drills and training suspended during the Evening Watch due to rendezvous with Combined Task Force One. All hands will go to General Quarters following inspection.
  3. CREW APPEARANCE: Crew to remove all facial hair and non-permanent ornamentation by inspection at 1800, haircuts high and tight. We will be holo-conferencing with other craft of the task force from this evening forward, including a large number of WestEuro craft, and every member of the crew must present a professional and squared-away appearance at all times. Don’t make us look bad in front of the Europeans.
  4. P. Huhn


    Sam read the Plan of the Day again and shook his head. Two years ago he never would have imagined he’d be where he was, in the middle of an interstellar war, writing a Plan of the Day about haircuts.

    He had never imagined that he would be in the first combatant action of the war, nor in the first craft damaged by such action, nor in the forward screen of the first offensive space task force assembled in Earth history, nor that he would suffer loss so early, nor that it would affect him so deeply that he would not be able to just put it from his mind and carry on. He did carry on, but it was as if Jules’s ghost silently accompanied him, watching everything he did. He had seen her three times, fleetingly, out of the corner of his eye, after that first time when her presence had unnerved him.

    Most of all, he never imagined that almost a week into the war it would remain so ordinary, so routine, as if that first burst of terror and violence, which had lasted less than half an hour, had been simply a dream. He never imagined that when the vagaries of war catapulted him into a position of responsibility for which he felt entirely unprepared, and while hurtling toward what could be the climactic battle of the first campaign in the war, he would spend his time filling out forms, posting plans of the day, and overseeing the minutiae of crew training and discipline. Was this what war was really like?

    “Haircuts, Bitka? What the–?”

    Sam looked up from his workstation to see Marina Filipenko, the new Tac Boss, floating in the open doorway.

    “Yeah, haircuts. You want the Euros to laugh at us for looking like a pirate crew?”

    She gave a soft tug on the doorframe and coasted into the XO’s office. “So instead they’ll laugh at us for looking like a bunch of circus geeks. Jesus, what’ll he come up with next?”

    Sam sighed and stretched. He’d argued with Huhn for fifteen minutes about this stupid order but hadn’t been able to talk him out of it, not that Filipenko needed to know that.

    “Just do it, okay? And get some perspective: nobody’s life is going to be shattered by a haircut. While you’re here, what’s the progress on getting Ensign Robinette certified to stand watch as Officer of the Deck?” Sam had to make a conscious effort not to call the young ensign The Jughead.

    “Slow. He’s trying but he’s got a long way to go.” Filipenko looked away and her attention seemed to wander.

    “Something bothering you, Filipenko?”

    “Bothering me? We’re up to our ears in a war, taking on the largest military power of the most technologically advanced race in known space, and we’ve got a weak spot in the crew roster.” She paused and looked at him, eyebrows raised. “You know who I mean.”

    She meant the captain. Sam’s first instinct was to bark her down, but he’d done a lot of barking in the last couple days. He took a deep breath instead.

    “You want a coffee? Fresh brewed, right here in my dispenser.”

    She shook her head.

    “It’s been a lot to absorb in just a few days,” Sam said after a moment, “a lot to get used to. You don’t need to tell me that. But the person you’re talking about is going to be fine–maybe not the easiest guy in the fleet to work with but so what? Best thing you can do about him is concentrate on doing your own job, okay? Stand one watch at a time.”

    “I’m not talking about being easy to work with, or this haircut silliness,” she said. “I’m talking about freezing on the bridge in the first attack. I’m talking about who made the call to realign the boat.”

    Sam felt his face flush. He’d thought that was only between Captain Huhn and himself. If the crew were talking about it, that was trouble.

    “Since the cloud missed us anyway it wouldn’t have made a difference, but I think you have things mixed up, Filipenko. I recommended realigning the boat–which was my responsibility as TAC Boss–and asked the Captain for permission. He gave it and we realigned. End of story.”

    “That’s not what Barb Lee told me. She said he froze and you gave the order. It’ll be on the bridge holo-log.”



    Sam shook his head. “I gave the order but only after the Captain gave me permission.”

    “And the audio track will confirm that?” she said.

    “No, the Captain nodded to me. He didn’t speak.”

    “And the permanent holo-vid track will confirm that?”

    Sam shrugged. “At one frame a second, who knows if you can tell he nodded. But I’m saying he did. You calling me a liar, Filipenko?”

    She looked away. “This really stinks. I’m trying to do the right thing, the responsible thing, but it feels ugly and small and …and dirty, like I should go take a sponge bath. I have this feeling no matter what I do, I’ll end up dirty.” She turned and looked at Sam. “The kind of dirt I’ll never scrub off. You know what I mean?”

    “I do. You want to not feel dirty? Stop trying to make judgments about things that are above your pay grade. When you leave here, go find Ensign Lee and kick her ass from here to Monday. Tell her what I told you about the captain nodding. Tell her to stop spreading rumors about things she doesn’t know the whole story on, rumors that undermine the authority of the captain and endanger everyone on the boat. Those are breaches of Navy regulations and in wartime constitute a serious offense, punishable by loss of rank, separation from the service, and imprisonment. Explain that you’re telling her that as a favor, because if I have to–as exec–it’ll get ugly.”

    Filipenko again looked away. “There wasn’t supposed to be a war, ever again,” she muttered. “And if there was, it wasn’t supposed to feel this way. I hate it, hate all of it. We didn’t sign on for this.”

    “Amen,” Sam said, but only to make her feel better. He didn’t really believe it.

    In fact all of them had signed on for exactly this. Filipenko had graduated from Annapolis in 2130, with a commission as a regular officer in the United States Navy, with all that entailed. Twelve years earlier, in the fall of R#8217;18, Sam had joined the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at U-Cal San Diego, and if it was mostly for access to the excellent NROTC gliders and sailboats, what difference did that make now? What difference did it make that when they had all agreed to serve, none of them had imagined that it would come to this? Did their lack of imagination relieve them of their obligation?

    It occurred to Sam that lack of imagination might actually be an asset in the coming weeks.

    His commlink vibrated and he squinted to see the ID of the duty communications petty officer.

    “XO,” Sam answered.

    Sir, this is Signaler First Class Kramer, communications. I have an incoming request for a holo-conference from USS Pensacola, Task Force flagship.

    “They’re about ten hours early. Have you notified the captain?”

    Sir, the request is from a Commander Atwater Jones, Royal Navy, and it’s for a one-on-one conference with you, by name, as soon as you’re available.

    “That’s funny. I don’t recall knowing anyone in the Royal Navy.”

    The second member state of the coalition was the West European Union, but the member states still maintained many of their pre-union national institutions, including their own armed forces. They operated under a unified command, but Sam still wasn’t sure exactly how that all worked. He looked up at Filipenko.

    “Lieutenant, can you excuse me? Royal Navy needs a face-to-face.”

    “What for?” she said.

    Sam shrugged.

    “I’m due on watch anyway,” she said and pushed off toward the doorway. “I’ll talk to Ensign Lee.” She closed the hatch behind her.

    Sam wondered if she’d bought his story about Huhn nodding. He thought she had, and in any case she seemed to understand the necessity to act as if it were true. He hoped Ensign Lee would as well. If it came to an official board of inquiry, he wasn’t prepared to perjure himself, or torpedo Lee’s career, just to cover for Delmar Huhn’s lapse.

    Sam put on his suit helmet, whose optics were necessary for the holo-conference, and triggered his commlink again.

    “Okay, Kramer, let’s see what this Jones guy wants.”

    Sam waited for a few seconds while Kramer patched the tight beam communicator channel through to his commlink and then the ghostly image of a tall, attractive, red-haired woman in her late thirties or early forties appeared, wearing a dark blue Royal Navy officer’s shipsuit and transparent viewer glasses.

    “Um … I’m on the beam for a Commander Jones?” Sam said.

    “Atwater-Jones,” she said. “Right, that’s me. You look surprised.”

    “I was expecting a man,” he said, and her expression immediately darkened. “No, I just …it was the name. Atwater sounds like a guy is all.”

    She squinted at him for a moment and then shook her head. “It’s my family name: Atwater-Jones, hyphenated. My first name is Cassandra.”

    Aware he might have gotten off to a bad start, and also aware she outranked him by two grades, Sam tried to think of a way to make amends. “Cassandra’s, um …a nice name.”

    “Really? I think it’s a perfectly dreadful name for a naval intelligence officer. Fraught with all sorts of unwanted significance. Wouldn’t have chosen it myself.”

    “Well …what can I do for you, Commander?”

    “Let me start by presenting my bona fides. I am N2, intelligence chief, to your Admiral Kayumati, part of the allied staff, Combined Task Force One. I believe both our services call the position Smart Boss. The commander of your destroyer division, Captain Bonaventure, forwarded your threat assessment but without any explanation as to how you came to your conclusions. I spoke with him and he had simply passed on the message sent by your captain. Huhn? Isn’t that his name?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “Right. As Captain Bonaventure didn’t know any more than I did, he recommended I ring you up. The only information in the burst transmission was as follows: ‘Advise, Stinger Squadron attacked by pellet clouds on high velocity exact reciprocal course. Tac Boss Red Stinger Two believes identical profile attack likely main force. (Signed) Red Stinger Six Actual.’

    “You are the TAC Boss?”

    “Was. I’m XO now.”

    “Congratulations on your promotion. Well-deserved, I’m sure. Now, I’m afraid I’m all in bits over this second attack against the main task force. The only way I can see these attacks launched is as a result of an intelligence leak–two leaks, actually, as the departure times and flight profiles of both forces would have to have been independently discovered and communicated. My question is this: how would the tactical officer on a destroyer, deployed in advance of us, know about those two leaks?”



    “Commander, I don’t know anything about any intelligence leaks.”

    “Then how could you be so sure the same attack launched against your force could have been duplicated against ours? Our senior operations staff assures me the potential volume of space where we could emerge from interstellar jump renders chance detection of an arriving force almost impossible. Coincidental detection of two such forces?” She frowned and shook her head.

    “Yeah, well … all due respect to your operations people, Commander, but they think like astrogators, not Tac-heads.”

    Then Sam explained in detail why the astrogation standard practices of arriving Earth forces had made it possible to detect them, the same as he had explained to Huhn and the others the day of the attack. Commander Atwater-Jones listened carefully, nodding her understanding, her face eventually creasing with anger.

    “Knobbers!” she finally said when he was done, then she shook her head. “Oh, not you Bitka. Excellent piece of tactical reasoning.”

    She stared ahead for a moment, her eyes not on him, so she must have been studying information projected by her viewer glasses. Her focus returned to him.

    “You’re a reservist,” she said, surprise in her voice.

    “Yes, ma’am. Is that a problem?”

    “Heavens, no! Why, some of my best chums are Royal Navy Reserve.” She gave him a lop-sided grin. “We just don’t expect them to be prodigies, that’s all. What’s your secret?”

    Prodigy? Sam felt his face warm a bit but he took a breath and made his mind work this through. He was on dangerous ground: he didn’t want to say anything a British officer might interpret as criticism of the US Navy, and who knew what her agenda was? He did suspect that flattery from a naval intelligence officer was more likely a prelude to trouble than to good news.

    “I’m no prodigy, Commander, and there’s no secret, just excellent training at Pearl River–the Deep Space Tactical Warfare School. Fundamentals of interplanetary astrogation, sensor performance at light-second range, combat tactics on a high-closing-rate vector–they made it all seem easy and fun.”

    She laughed.

    “Easy and fun? They must have changed some of the faculty since I read tactics there six years ago. An exchange assignment, you know. Beastly in the summer, isn’t it?”

    “It’s not really the heat,” Sam said with a smile, “it’s the humidity.”

    “I rather thought it was both,” she answered and she nodded thoughtfully, but Sam didn’t think her mind was on the climate of southwestern Mississippi. After a moment her eyebrows danced up just for an instant and then settled back, as if shrugging.

    “Right. Well, thank you Leftenant Bitka, you have been most helpful.”

    And the connection went dead.

    Sam took off his helmet and clipped it to his workstation, then stretched his back and locked his fingers behind his head.

    What was his secret? Did he even have a secret?

    After college and his mandatory term of active duty service with the Navy, he’d spent seven years in the private sector, working his way up to assistant vice president for West Coast Product Support in the large-capacity fabricator division of Dynamic Paradigms. Had anything from his work helped him as a tactical officer? It had taught him how to figure out what his bosses wanted and give it to them, which got him through Pearl River with great marks. Then it got him strong fitness reports and glowing recommendations from the captains he served under before coming to USS Puebla.

    The training really had been good, and something about it had appealed to him. It was easy and fun, but probably less because of the instructors and more because Sam had taken to it. It was a good mental fit, the way you sometimes meet a stranger but your minds are organized so similarly that within no time you feel like you’ve know her for years. But others took to the training as well. That wasn’t his secret.

    He started to sip coffee from the drink bulb tethered to his desk but it had gone cold. He flushed it in his drink dispenser’s liquid recycler and switched to mango juice. He had enough caffeine in his system but a little sugar wouldn’t hurt.

    What was his secret? It wasn’t his secret at all; it was the Navy’s, and he didn’t think they even knew they had one. A hundred years of peaceful space travel had left the Navy paying lip service to the violent part of its mission, and you could see it in something as simple as where officers sat at the wardroom table. Promising regulars, the ones with good marks and better connections, went into operations–astrogation and communication–not tactics. They had to do rotations in tactical departments, but when they did they usually opted for the sensor slots rather than weapons. Weapons were things you maintained and polished and practiced shooting, but never actually used. Sensors at least were useful for astrogation.

    Sam didn’t fault that. It wasn’t for him to judge, and in any case it made sense. What the Navy did was move people and ships around, and to do that they needed astrogators, communicators, and engineers. The tactical people had been dead weight for a hundred years, they were the bottom rung on the social ladder, and as soon as a bunch of bright-eyed reservists started coming into uniform, as many of the old tactical officers as could manage it had switched over to operations, leaving their seats for reservists to fill.

    But what Sam had said to the British commander was true as far as it went: operations people just didn’t think tactically; they thought like astrogators. What he hadn’t told her was that, as far as he could tell, right now the United States Navy was run, top to bottom, by astrogators.

    He couldn’t just come out and say that to some Limey.

    Had he just gotten a number of astrogators in trouble? He hoped so. Those would be the same ones who got Jules and six more of his shipmates killed by cutting corners to make their jobs easier. If Sam survived this, they’d find out what real trouble was.

    Speaking of trouble…

    Sam keyed his embedded commlink and squinted up the connection to the duty communications petty officer.

    Sig-One Kramer.

    “Kramer, this is the XO. Notify the captain that the task force smart boss just called for a face-to-face with me by name, and send the captain the recording of the conference.”

    Aye, aye, sir.

    “Oh, and Kramer … make sure you let him know I told you to send him the recording.”

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