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Governor: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Monday, November 16, 2020 19:07 EST



    "Do we really have to do this?" Fleet Admiral Arkadios Fokaides growled. "The man's a damned fop, whatever the frigging newsies had to say about Steelman!"

    The Terran Republic's Chief of Naval Operations was a man with exactly zero patience for fools at the best of times, and he was none too picky about who he assigned to the "fools" category. Although, in this case, Vice Admiral Yang Xiaolan reflected, he might have a better argument than usual. Yang had known Terrence Murphy for over thirty years, and he'd never impressed her as a suitable champion to uphold the Murphy family name. Not that he couldn't have been, just that he never had.

    "The decision is up to you, Arkadios," she said now. "All I can say is that the arguments in favor of making Boyle happy are pretty convincing, and I think he's ready to go to the mat over this one."

    "Probably because of how many credits Thakore's pouring into his goddamn party's slush fund. God, I hate politics!" Fokaides looked even less happy. But then he shrugged. "I don't suppose he can do too much damage."

    The CNO had managed not to say "not even he," Yang noted. It had probably been hard for him.

    "It's not as if he's going to have to defeat the entire Rénzú Liánméng Haijun by himself," she pointed out, and Fokaides gave her a moderately dirty look. Unlike some, she had no problem pronouncing the Terran League's Navy's proper name. The majority of the TRN's personnel, including one Arkaidios Fokaides simply referred to it as "the League Navy" or "the Leaguies" and got on with it.

    "Of course he isn't," he growled back. "I just hate giving him the slot. It's not like he's earned it!"

    Yang nodded. No one could really argue with that point, she reflected.

    "I’m surprised Thakore didn’t push for his son Rajenda to get the position,” she said.

    “Raw nepotism won’t play for Thakore,” Fokaides shook his head. “Besides, Rajenda has a combat command on the Beta Cygni front. We pull him out of that and it’ll look like he’s being politely fired.”

    “So they give Murphy the position at New Dublin with a significant force to command. It looks good in the faxes," she pointed out in return. "Boyle's publicity flaks are right about the way Public Information can play up the 'a Murphy goes to war' angle. Especially — and I know you're not going to want to hear this — after Steelman."

    Fokaides glared at her, and it was her turn to shrug.

    "I know the entire thing got blown out of all proportion, and if I had to guess, it was only O'Hanraghty that kept him from stepping on his sword. That's the way even Murphy's after-action report reads, if you read between the lines. But whatever the reasons, that's how the public sees him now. And however much it may grate, we're going to need all the political support we can get for next year's appropriations." Fokaides fixed her with icy green eyes, and she shrugged again. "I don't like it a whole lot more than you do, but if it helps us get the budget we need, I think it's worth the investment."

    Fokaides leaned back in his chair and ran the fingers of his right hand through his hair. That hair was still thick and dark, thanks to antigerrone, but he was eighty years old, and he'd been Chief of Naval Operations for almost twenty years. He'd reach mandatory retirement in another five, at which point Yang would step into his shoes. She was seventeen years younger than he was, and she'd been named Vice Chief of Naval Operations two years ago expressly to give her the experience she'd need when it was her turn in the hot seat. He hadn't picked her at random as his successor, either. He'd chosen her because she was smart and capable and because the choice was too important to leave up to the civilians.

    And she's right, dammit, he thought. It just sticks in my craw. Wonder how much of it's because of how much I detested his old man? Fokaides didn't like admitting, even to himself, that personal animosity could play a part in a decision like this, but there was no point pretending that he and Bartholomew Murphy hadn't despised one another cordially. And Terrence Murphy was the spitting image of his father. Question is, is he as inept as his father was? Yang's right about the need to invest in political support, but Jesus I hate wasting even a light task force on a goddamn Murphy! Especially one who ran so scared before Steelman turned him into a "hero."

    That had been the true core of his initial refusal to sign off on the entire deployment, he told himself . . . and hoped he was being honest when he did. But Murphy had already ridden his family's name when he chose to go to Survey instead of following a Battle Fleet track. At a time when the Terran Republic was locked in a death grip with the League, he'd decided to keep his own precious ass out of the line of fire, just like he'd done with his older son. What if he chose to do that again? What if the "Hero of Steelman's Star" reverted to his true colors when the odds turned truly crappy?

    Yet every time he asked himself that, he came back to Yang's point. Very few Heart Worlders understood just how bad things had become. It wasn't completely true that, as one of the more irritating newsies had put it, the Fringe Worlds might be at war, but the Heart Worlds were at the mall. Yet the metaphor was reaching in the right direction. Fokaides knew the League couldn't sustain the current tempo of operations indefinitely. In the end, the Republic's larger population and far more massive industrial infrastructure had to win what had become an ugly war of attrition. But Arkadios Fokaides had been telling himself that for the last twenty years, and he suspected his predecessor had been telling herself that for at least twenty years before he'd become CNO. And somehow, half a century and more since the first shots were fired, the League stubbornly refused to lie down and die.

    And it's been going on long enough that just convincing the Assembly to pay for the war is getting harder and harder, he thought grimly. And that's because the voters — the precious, pampered, useless frigging voters — don't care. Why should they? We've managed to keep the fighting outside the Heart Worlds, none of our critical star systems are at risk, so the way they see it, they don't have any skin in the game.

    Unless their kids are the ones getting assigned to combat duty, of course.

    "All right," he said finally. "You're right. We have to just swallow the pill and keep going, but I don't want him swanning around out there without someone to ride herd on him!"

    "I think we're covered there, actually," Yang replied. Fokaides raised his eyebrows in silent question, and she snorted. "One of the reasons I'd convinced he's not a total idiot, really. He's requested O'Hanraghty for Chief of Staff."

    "Has he?" The CNO let his chair come upright again. "That's encouraging. O'Hanraghty may be a dinosaur, but at least he knows his ass from his elbow when it comes to tactics."

    Yang nodded in agreement. Harrison O'Hanraghty had graduated from the Academy only a couple of years after her, but he'd been only a commander when Terrence Murphy went off to Steelman's Star. He might not actually be the "dinosaur" Fokaides had called him, but he'd certainly managed to blot his copybook with enough senior officers to explain his career's glacial progress. His side trip through the Office of Naval Intelligence hadn't exactly helped him in that regard, either. Yang didn't know what he'd done to piss them off over at ONI, but she suspected he'd probably been poking his nose where it didn't belong. He'd done a lot of that in the last thirty or forty years. Which was a shame, because he truly did "know his ass from his elbow" operationally. If he'd just been able to stay out of trouble with his superiors and concentrate on that, he'd have had admiral's stars of his own by now.

    At least he'd finally gotten captain's rank after keeping Murphy out of the crapper at Steelman's. And she'd made it quietly clear to him that if he could just go on keeping Murphy out of the crapper until they got Murphy's task force back intact, there was a commodore's star in it for him, as well.

    "He does know his tactics," she said out loud. "And Murphy's already shown he's willing to listen to O'Hanraghty. I think the fact that he wants him as chief of staff shows he knows how much he needs to go on listening, too."

    "I hope so." Fokaides sounded more than a little skeptical, but he also waved one hand in a brushing away gesture. "Either way, it's probably as close as we can come to disaster-proofing things. I guess we’re just going to have to hope for the best."

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