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Chain of Command: Chapter Twenty Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, October 4, 2017 19:18 EDT



1 January 2134 (the next day) (eleventh day in K’tok orbit)

    Sam floated out of his shower sphere, pulled off his shower mask, and checked the time: 0615, January First. Welcome to 2134, and just in time. Sam had had about all of 2133 he could handle.

    The shower sphere was only about a meter and a half in interior circumference, with high pressure water jets on one side and vacuum intakes on the other. You had to wear an oxygen feed mask while you were in it to keep from drowning. Sam had to curl up almost in a fetal position to fit, and the pressure of the water jets spun him in the compartment, making him slightly dizzy, but despite all that it was one of the real luxuries of a senior officer’s cabin. The junior officers and enlisted crew made do with a communal shower shared with a half-dozen other crew once every week and sponge bathing in between.

    He toweled off and checked his stored messages, and he saw a flashing attention notice by one from Commodore Bonaventure, logged in five minutes ago. Bonaventure was up early.

    Bitka, as the task group N-2 I’ve got two bones for you to chew on.

    First bone: we picked up some acceleration signatures, multiple ships, out past the asteroid belt and almost on the opposite side of the primary, so presumed hostile. We sure don’t have anything out there. Looks as if the task force main body wouldn’t have a line of sight to them, and neither would the ships out in Mogo orbit. We copied them and the raw data’s in the latest intel update but I want you to take a look yourself, bring that famous tac-head concentration to bear. Let me know if you have any ideas.

    Second bone: we did a fly-over this morning of the landing site for those glide canisters and picked up vehicular movement heading south. They’re keeping dispersed, but the ground speed is consistent with gunsleds. Looked like they landed some lift cavalry and they’re headed toward the down station. Give me some options to deal with them.

    Enjoy your breakfast.

    He cut the connection and then checked the intel updates, and found the report of thermal signatures of an acceleration burn, starting north of the plane of the ecliptic and then cutting out once they reached the plain. Four or five separate signatures, hard to tell for sure at that distance and with a lot of thermal “noise” from the primary–the system’s sun.

    He checked the watch rotation just to be sure, but knew what he would find: White Watch was on, had just taken over forty-five minutes ago. Ensign Barb Lee would be officer of the deck, already strapped into the command chair. The update had come in four hours ago when Blue Watch was on duty.

    Jerry Robinette had finally qualified as officer of the deck and had taken over Blue Watch from Larry Goldjune three days ago. Robinette would probably be in the wardroom now, getting breakfast, having just come off watch. He’d come along surprisingly well since they moved him back to the tactical department from engineering. He took his responsibilities seriously, had worked hard to qualify as OOD, and had pitched in on the missile problem, done the force analysis calculations they needed to stress-test the parts. Sam had even gone several days without thinking of him as the Jughead. He wondered if Jerry might be one of those legendary diamonds in the rough, who never shine until they need to. Maybe it was time to find out.

    Sam squinted up his contact code and pinged him.

    Yes, sir? Robinette answered.

    “Ensign, did you notice an updated intel packet concerning thrust signatures out beyond the asteroid belt?”

    Yes, sir. I flagged it for Lieutenant Filipenko’s attention, as Tac-boss, but it didn’t seem immediately pressing. I think she may still be in the rack. Is there a problem, sir?

    “No problem, Ensign. You’re right, it wasn’t coded as critical and a burn that far away–at least one like this–isn’t an immediate problem. What do you suppose it means?”

    There was a moment’s silence

    Mean, sir? In what way?

    “Well, when the uBakai hit us here, they came out of jump with a high residual velocity. That means they had to do a long, hard burn before they jumped.”

    Sir, are you saying the uBakai could be getting ready for another attack?

    Sam heard the rising alarm in Robinette’s voice.

    “I don’t think so, Jerry.” Sam used Robinette’s first name to calm him, put him more at ease. “Besides, we’d have seen the energy signature of a jump if they’d done that, right? So if you take a look at these burn tracks, it is pretty clear they are moving slower as they approach the plane of the ecliptic, not faster. So they aren’t accelerating, are they?”

    No, sir. They must be decelerating.

    “Right. So what do you think that means?”

    More silence.

    That they’re slowing down? I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know. It means they decelerated, but … I don’t know exactly what you mean by ‘mean,’ sir.

    Sam took a breath and swallowed to keep the impatience from his voice.

    “Okay, Jerry, I’m not trying to stump you, but if you’re going to be a tactical officer you’ve got to learn to think tactically. Everything means something. Every piece of data like this is the result of a sentient being making a decision to do something. The question is, what did they decide to do, and why?

    “In this case, four or five unknown and previously undetected ships approached the plane of the ecliptic from galactic north at a fairly steep angle, then they decelerated and dropped into an orbit around the primary, out past the asteroids. They did it out there to use the primary and the asteroids to partially cloak themselves, right?

    “But who are they? They had to come from somewhere and probably jumped to above the plane. But they’ve got a very different residual vector than the uBakai fleet had last time we saw them.”

    Yes, sir. Theirs was flat, almost parallel to the plane.

    “That’s right. So why would they change their vector into a north- -south orientation, then jump north of the plane, and then decelerate to burn away that new vector? And why wouldn’t we have seen their burn when they made that original vector change?”

    More silence.

    I … I’m sorry, sir, but I just can’t get it. I don’t know why.

    Sam sighed.

    “Robinette, you can’t think of a good reason for them to do it because there is no good reason. And we probably would have seen a major course change burn anywhere near this system. Those are uBakai reinforcements arriving, possibly the four cruisers they had at Akaampta.”

    Sam cut the connection and shook his head. Well, that had been a pointless exercise, a waste of both their times, except for what it showed him about Robinette.

    The Jughead.

    Sam wanted to teach the young ensign that sometimes if you can’t think of a reason for something, there might not be one. The problem was, Robinette apparently could not figure out a reason for anything. Sam didn’t think he had much future as a tactical officer, which was too bad. They needed someone good to back up Marina Filipenko. She was rising to the job, but if anything happened to her, they were in big trouble.

    He turned back to his desk and loaded the report on ground vehicle traffic down on K’tok.




    “Curse the Cottohazz and curse the uZmataanki!” Admiral Tyjaa e-Lapeela raged. Vice-Captain Takaar Nuvaash, Speaker for the Enemy, listened in what he hoped gave the impression of respectful silence. “The rotating commander of the Cottohazz peacekeeping force at Fleet Base Akaampta is Hue e-Puttazhaa. You know him?”

    “No, admiral, I do not have that pleasure.”

    “Pleasure? Baa! He fancies himself a man of cunning, and he imagines his tricks are amusing. Also he has never forgiven Bakaa for the death of his son in the K’Tok War. I suppose they will now call that the First K’tok War and ours the Second.”

    “I believe the admiral’s insight on that matter at least is correct.” Nuvaash waited to see if the admiral would react to his careful phrasing but e-Lapeela was too involved in his own anger to notice

    “E-Puttazhaa has invoked the non-involvement clause of the Cottohazz charter and refuses to release the Akaampta squadron from service. He claims doing so would constitute using the Akaampta base as a support facility to sustain a war by one member against another.”

    “Yes, so I understand. It is unfortunate, Admiral, that simply the fact that our cruisers there are carrying munitions manufactured under Cottohazz contracts, and fuel purchased and refined for Cottohazz use, allows Admiral e-Puttazhaa to exercise this inconvenient technicality of the law.”

    e-Lapeela looked up and a hint of suspicion flickered in his eyes, or perhaps Nuvaash imagined it. e-Lapeela always looked a bit suspicious of everything. Nuvaash made sure his ears were spread wide and his eyes bore a look of sincere and respectful sympathy.

    “That is why the Akaampta squadron has not arrived,” the admiral continued. “They may have to jump back to Hazz’Akatu and conduct a nominal refit before joining us, assuming our government can secure their release at all. I wonder how hard they are trying.”

    That was an interesting observation, Nuvaash thought.

    “This news came with the new cruisers from home?” he asked.

    “A jump courier from Akaampta arrived in the home system just before the two new Home Fleet cruisers jumped here. The original plan was for the Akaampta squadron to join us at the same time, and then we would have had overwhelming force. This delay complicates everything. With our two remaining operational cruisers and the two from home we do not have the ability to guarantee a victory at K’tok and retain sufficient strength to later defeat the balance of the enemy fleet.

    “Fortunately, we will soon be joined by a new ally–an uKa-Maat squadron of three cruisers is being readied for dispatch and will arrive within the week. Although they are untested in battle, the fact that two of the cruisers are of the new salvo variety helps considerably.”

    “The Federation of Ka-Maat has declared war?” Nuvaash asked. If so, this was good news indeed. A second Varoki nation joining the fight might indeed open the path for others to follow.

    e-Lapeela settled back in his chair and considered his words.

    “I expect a formal declaration to come later. For now, the uKa-Maat squadrons is acting …on the initiative of its command personnel. To avoid diplomatic complications, the ships will be fitted with uBakai transponders until such time as their government’s policy catches up with events.

    “But tell me, how have the Humans responded to the attacks? Speak for the enemy.”

    “Confusion,” Nuvaash answered. “We have limited information, most of it from the ground stations on K’tok and the three dark sensor platforms in the asteroid belt. There are four surviving destroyers at K’tok, two cruisers and four destroyers moving from the gas giant Mogo toward K’tok, and the balance of the enemy fleet en route back to Mogo.”

    The admiral shook his head in disdain.

    “They had two cruisers at K’tok and two at Mogo, and are now wasting days switching their places? Confusion is a charitable characterization, Nuvaash. Had our reinforcements arrived as planned, we would make short work of them.

    “We must not let them regain their balance.”



    A mess steward brought lunch to Sam in his cabin and he’d just made a fresh bulb of coffee from his drink dispenser when his commlink vibrated and the ID tag of Moe Rice, the supply officer, came up.

    “Yes, Moe. What’s up?”

    Cap’n, you wanted a heads-up if anything changed on the ground supply front. Well, it hasn’t exactly changed, but it’s getting pretty bad, especially for the Brits. The uBakai are moving those gunsleds south. We don’t have the ability to shift our orbital bombardment munitions around so they’re sticking to our blind spots. The troops on the ground are going to have to handle this one on their own. They need heavy weapons for that.

    “Still no word from Earth about those fabricators?”

    No, sir. The Brits are down to using captured small arms, no heavy stuff. The US and Indian cohorts can loan them a couple launchers and missiles, but they’re stretched thin on their own fronts. Without those ammo fabricators cranking out some anti-vehicle missiles, they’re in a world of hurt. There was talk of evacuating them up the needle, maybe having to pull the plug on the whole operation. Thing is, with the transports gone that’s not even an option any more. There’s no way a few destroyers can pack two thousand soldiers in, let alone keep them fed and breathing.

    “Okay, Moe, thanks.”


    He was back to Dynamic Paradigms and the cheat code. If he broke his non-disclosure agreement and turned the cheat code over to the supply folks, would his old company make an exception for him? Would they decide the critical situation on K’tok justified the breach of trust? No. The Navy had already been trying to get them to allow cross-access and the firm hadn’t budged. If they wouldn’t budge for the US government, they weren’t going to cut him a break.

    Why hadn’t they turned the cheat code over? They were defense contractors. Sure, this wasn’t covered by the original purchase orders, but the company could probably charge the Navy a small fortune to go outside the agreed terms. They were in business, weren’t they? What was this about if not money?

    He really didn’t like the Navy, and the prospect of making it his career by default did not appeal to him. In all likelihood the Navy wouldn’t have him anyway when this was all done, he being a scummy reservist and all. Dumped unceremoniously on the beach with no job, no money, and no prospects. Delightful future.

    And that wasn’t all. Navy regulations explicitly prohibited him from breaking the law in pursuit of his duty or in following orders. Corporate proprietary information was covered by law. He’d actually be breaking Navy regs to turn over the cheat code. For all he knew he could end up in jail.

    There was only one sensible, legal course of action: keep his mouth shut. It still wasn’t too late for Dynamic Paradigms to come through with the master codes to allow cross-programming. Come on, you bastards. Give them the codes.

    He looked at the unopened containers of his lunch but they had gone cold and no longer looked appetizing.

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