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Chain of Command: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Sunday, September 3, 2017 09:35 EDT



22 December 2133 (two day later) (first day in K’tok orbit)

    The task force reached orbit and conducted its bombardment and assault as planned. To much relief and some surprise, everything went off without a hitch. Ground resistance was sporadic and unorganized, surprise apparently complete, casualties minimal, success absolute.

    That evening Vice-Admiral Leman Kechik Kayumati went live via holovid to the entire task force. Sam watched and listened in his cabin, through his helmet optics. He had never seen Kayumati before and the admiral was older than he expected, well into his sixties, and slight of stature, but with rigid posture. He had a steady, confident manner and intelligent eyes in the broad, brown, high-cheekboned face that showed his Malay ancestry. With his thinning gray hair and bushy white eyebrows, he looked a bit like the tough old patriarch of the family in so many adventure holovids–strong, seasoned, and wise. Sam didn’t know much about how good an admiral Kayumati was, but he had to admit the guy looked the part.

    “As you know, this morning we entered orbit above the planet K’tok,” Kayumati began. “We have been at war for twenty days, although the only hostile activity to date has been a single cowardly sneak attack, launched by the enemy before a formal state of war existed. That attack cost us a lot of good men and women, but since then the uBakai haven’t shown much stomach for a fight. They ran away from us at Mogo and it looks like their fleet’s run away from us here at K’tok as well.”

    Pretty good start, Sam thought. Can’t have an interesting story without a good villain. From there Kayumati went on to caution everyone that, although the uBakai had run, they’d be back, because K’tok was too important to them to let it go without a fight. Then he told them about the protein chain differences, why they made K’tok the only place anyone had found other than Earth where Humans could eat the food grown in the ground, instead of in a hydroponic tank.

    Humans had started settling the Utaan Archipelago in the western hemisphere of K’tok. The uBakai claimed all of it, even though no Varoki had ever settled anywhere but the two continents in the eastern hemisphere. There had been clashes, both sides had sent military forces as observers, but the coalition of Human states that backed the colonists had agreed to arbitration by the Cottohazz Wat.

    “That’s when those cowards hit us,” Kayumati said, his voice rising in anger. “Why? Because they knew the arbitration would go our way, leave our colonists in their homes on K’tok. Most of the Cottohazz is with us on this, is tired of the Varoki having everything their own way. Well, we deserve our chance at the stars too, by God! We shouldn’t have to fight for it. We didn’t want this fight. They started it, but so help me we’re going to finish it!

    “And we got a good start on that today. Every objective secured with no naval casualties and very light casualties among our Marine and allied ground forces. That’s because every man and woman in the task force carried out their duty with courage and professionalism.”

    He had them. Sam could sense it, could almost hear men and women cheering that line. This was good, simple, and to the point. He’d shown them an injury to avenge, a prize worth fighting for, and bad guys to smack down. All he had to do was end on a high note and the task force would follow him to hell.

    “You know,” Kayumati continued, “those Varoki think they’re entitled to everything, just because they developed the interstellar jump drive first. And then they fooled us and everyone else in the Cottohazz into signing on to their intellectual property covenants. Maybe you don’t understand the importance of that, but let me explain.”

    Sam stared at the hologram in front of him. What was Kayumati doing? He had them. Make the sale, close the deal, and say goodnight. But he kept on talking.

    First he gave a long explanation of how Cottohazz intellectual property law screwed everyone but the Varoki. Then he started in on how Humans were training fewer and fewer scientists every year. He had a lot of statistics to back that up and some colorful three-dimensional graphics. When he started in on the history of the settlement of K’tok and the Varoki ecoform project, Sam took his helmet off and cut the feed.

    “Shut up!” he yelled at the silent walls of his cabin. “What are you thinking? Just shut up, you doddering old fool!”

    Sam knew the feed was still coming in and though he didn’t watch it, he watched the incoming feed light on his data pad. Kayumati talked for another twenty minutes. Sam did a quick keyword search of the speech recording by topics and came up with:

    The First K’tok Campaign of 2130

    Spacecraft design

    Destroyer Riders

    Fire Lance Missiles

    Contemporary Music

    Adventure Holo-Vids

    There were more entries but he stopped the scan, closed his eyes, and simply floated in the center of his cabin for a while.

    Sam had worked his way up the ladder of lower management at Dynamic Paradigms, onto the rungs of middle management, and although he’d found customer fulfillment most to his liking, he had done his share of sales as well, and he wasn’t bad at it. One thing he knew was when to shut up. Over and over again he’d seen inexperienced sales people get the sale and then keep talking–and talk the customer right out of it. Sam understood why.

    One thing people are very good at: they know, without even having to think it through, that if a salesman keeps talking after the customer is convinced, it’s because he’s still trying to convince himself.



    Vice-Captain Takaar Nuvaash, Speaker for the Enemy, covered his face with his hands to hide his shame and anger.

    “Nuvaash, what are you doing here?”

    He looked up and saw Admiral e-Lapeela. He had not heard him enter the briefing room. Now he rose to the position of attentive respect.

    “I am composing my resignation, Admiral.”

    A flicker of irritation passed across the admiral’s face. “Resignation? You would flee from your duty at the first sign of adversity?”

    “Admiral, I will serve in whatever position the fleet demands of me.”

    The admiral said nothing and soon Nuvaash realized the silence was his to fill.

    “I believed I anticipated every enemy approach to this problem. Our heavy ground elements were well-dispersed to avoid destruction by orbital bombardment, our mobile troops placed to contain and isolate enemy landings, our aerial defense systems optimized to prevent reinforcement of their colony enclaves.”

    He paused and shook his head.

    “Never did I imagine they would undertake an operation so …audacious. To seize the needle itself? By meteoric assault from orbit? Capture the administrative capital of the planet, and do so with only three cohorts of troops? This will be my legacy–I will be forever remembered as the Speaker for the Enemy who allowed the only capture of a needle in history. I have shamed you as well, Admiral. All I have left to offer is my resignation, insignificant as that is.”

    e-Lapeela stood silently for what seemed an endless interval, but which may have been no more than a minute. When he spoke, his voice was level and backed with authority but no contempt, so far as Nuvaash could detect.

    “Sit, Nuvaash,” he said, and he sat down as well, across the conference table.

    “You are humiliated, and you think you understand why, but you do not. I will explain your humiliation to you, as one who has faced that same hopeless black night of the spirit.

    “You have known Humans, interacted with them, and I imagine liked some of them. You respected many of their achievements, and in your interactions with them undoubtedly earned their respect as well. This lulled you into the illusion of equality. Today shattered that illusion, and that is the true basis for your humiliation. You finally, at long last, understand that we are not their equals. They are monsters, Nuvaash–but diabolically clever monsters. There can never be any question of a fair fight with them. You understand that now, don’t you? We cannot allow them a fair fight, because they will best us!

    “You will not be remembered for the capture of the Needle at K’tok. That will become a minor incident in a war which will be remembered for a thousand year. Let them enjoy their triumph for now. So rich and glorious a prize will hold them to this place, demand they defend it, pin their fleet in place for us to destroy.

    “Your observation of their astrogation procedures, and the extent to which they rigidly follow their standing peacetime practices, let us surprise them once and I believe will let us surprise them again. Audacity? If you are remembered for anything, it will be for the brilliance and audacity of this next attack.”

    Nuvaash straightened in his chair but shook his head slightly.

    “The attack plan was yours, admiral.”

    “You showed the weakness, Nuvaash. Together we devised the means to exploit it–over the objections of our own fleet astrogator, you may recall. It is as dangerous as he counsels, but I believe the danger ensures surprise. I believe the Humans will never expect it from us for that very reason. It is too Human a risk. You believe that as well, do you not?”

    “Yes, admiral, I do.”

    “What you do not know, Nuvaash, is that the surprise will be two-fold. Our fleet munitions vessel ABk Seventy-One brought a special shipment of electronic warfare missiles of a radically new type. Even now they are being moved to the cruisers which will spearhead our attack. These missiles will shatter their fleet, and with it their morale. In two days we will decisively alter the naval balance of power forever. That is what you and I will be remembered for.”

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