A Call To Arms – Snippet 14


1541 PD


“…and as always I wish you safe journeys,” the middle-aged man on the display said. “Godspeed, Lorelei. Come home to me soon.”

The message ended. For a long moment Senior Chief Fire Control Tech Lorelei Osterman stared at the empty display, her emotions pinballing between the familiar and rock-solid warmth and love for her widowed father, and her extreme annoyance at the position he’d just put her in.

Watch over young Locatelli was what he’d said. Babysit the snot-nosed nephew of the Navy’s Commanding Officer of System Command was what he’d meant.

Blast him for putting her into this position, anyway.

Still, she should have expected it. Her parents had been long-time friends of Admiral Locatelli and his wife before Osterman’s mother passed away six T-years ago. When she heard that Locatelli’s nephew and four other freshly-minted ensigns had been assigned to Salamander, it was only logical that Locatelli’s father would call her father, who would message her.

There was still some hope that the kid would be assigned to aft weapons instead of Osterman’s forward weapons division. But given that the elder Locatelli knew she was aboard, the odds were depressingly good that the admiral had pulled whatever strings were necessary to put him in her part of the ship.

And thus continued the Royal Manticoran Navy’s slide into hell.

The sudden abdication of King Michael two years ago had been the first knell. Not that Edward was a bad king. Far from it. On top of that, he’d been an RMN officer, which meant he understood the needs of the Navy even better than his father had.

The problem was that Chancellor of the Exchequer Breakwater was still hell-bent on draining every drop of blood from the Navy that he could and transfusing it to his private MPARS fiefdom, and so far Edward hadn’t found the backbone to stand up to the man.

Complicating that hemorrhage had been Knell Number Two: the abrupt and equally unexpected resignation of Defense Minister Calvingdell shortly after Damocles’ return from Casca.

The rumor mill had worked overtime on that one, without ever reaching any solid conclusions. But there had been hints. In the weeks after Damocles’ return from the Cascan fly-by Osterman’s private sources had marked several high-level, closed-door meetings between Calvingdell, Prime Minister Burgundy, and First Lord of the Admiralty Cazenestro. Sometimes those meetings had included one or more of Damocles’s officers and petty officers, and King Edward himself had joined the group for at least two of them.

The rumors surrounding the Cascan trip itself were just as murky and equally unsatisfying. The official news reports spoke of a multiple murder that had occurred in Quechua City while Damocles had been there, but no one seemed to know how or why the RMN and Star Kingdom were involved.

All Osterman knew for sure was that when the round of meetings was finally over, Calvingdell was no longer Defense Minister. Unfortunately, Breakwater had been Johnny-on-the-spot there, too, somehow managing to pressure Prime Minister Burgundy into reinstating Earl Dapplelake to that position.

Osterman had liked Calvingdell. The woman had been elegant, articulate, and a good foil for Breakwater’s schemes. She’d persuaded Parliament to authorize out-system pirate hunts and good-will visits, all of which had not only been the absolutely right proactive response to Secour, but had also raised the Star Kingdom’s visibility and prestige among its neighbors.

Dapplelake, in contrast, had been the Defense Minister who had authorized the Mars debacle.

And now, here was the third knell: the rebirth of nepotism.

Calvingdell had stopped that, too, or at least had slowed it down. The brief resurgence in funding and enlistment had allowed the Navy to go for quality, not just cater to the vicarious military dreams of the Lords and Ladies lying thick upon the ground.

Her uni-link signaled. Bracing herself, Osterman clicked it on. “Osterman.”

“Todd,” the voice of Commander Maximillian Todd, Salamander’s XO, came tersely. “Captain wants to see you in his office.”

“Aye, aye, Sir,” Osterman said, suppressing a sigh. Three guesses as to what this was about.

Sure enough, Ensign Locatelli was waiting with Captain John Ross, Baron Fairburn, when Osterman arrived in his office.

“Senior Chief,” Captain Fairburn said, nodding to her. “I want to introduce you to Salamander’s newest officer. Ensign Fenton Locatelli; Senior Chief Lorelei Osterman.”

“Pleased to meet you, Senior Chief,” Locatelli said, giving her a brisk nod of his own. The nod was so obviously an attempt to imitate the mannerisms of his famous uncle that Osterman had to consciously suppress a wince. What looked good and proper on a face lined with long naval experience looked ridiculous and pretentious on a kid barely a third his age. “I’ve heard good things about you from my father and uncle. I’ll look forward to having you serving under me.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Osterman said. Serving under me. Not teaching me how to do my job or even serving with me.

Even senior officers who’d earned the right to speak that way almost never did. Only ensigns came wrapped in such confident arrogance and oblivious ignorance.

Fairburn was watching her closely, clearly hoping she would verbally fawn a little. Unfortunately for him, Osterman had no intention of doing so. After a couple of seconds of silence, the captain’s lip twitched with resignation and he nodded again. “Very well. Ensign Locatelli, you’re dismissed. Senior Chief, a word, if I may.”

He didn’t speak again until the door had sealed behind the ensign. “I have the sense, Senior Chief, that you don’t care for the new addition to our little family.”

“I’m sorry you were left with that impression, Sir,” Osterman said. “I have nothing against Ensign Locatelli.”

“Except that he’s an ensign? And a Locatelli?”

“Neither has anything to do with the situation, Sir.”

“So pleased to hear that, Senior Chief,” Fairburn said acidly. “You are aware, I trust, that Admiral Locatelli is the main reason you’re wearing a Navy uniform right now and not an MPARS one.”

Osterman made a face. But he was right. After Mars, they certainly couldn’t count on the Defense Minister’s judgment and backbone. The only person standing between the Navy and Chancellor Breakwater these days was indeed the System Commander. “Yes, Sir,” she conceded. “I just…permission to speak freely, Sir?”

“Of course.”

“What you just said is true,” she said. “Furthermore, everyone aboard knows it. I’m concerned that he might therefore be treated differently than if he were Ensign No-Name.”

Fairburn’s eyes narrowed. “Rest assured, Senior Chief, that neither I nor anyone under my command is going to treat him as anything more than a brain-dead wet-ear who needs petty officer help to find his boots in the morning.”

“I hope that will be the case, Sir,” Osterman said. “Will that be all, Sir?”

“For now.” Fairburn raised his eyebrows. “Just make sure you don’t backflip the other direction and lean on him harder than you would your Ensign No-Name.”

“No, Sir, I won’t.” Osterman dared a small smile. “Even if that was possible.”

Fairburn gave a little snort. “Of course, Senior Chief. What in the world was I thinking?” He waved a hand. “Dismissed.”

* * *

“Glad to meet you, Mr. Llyn,” Cutler Gensonne said, the prominent and self-awarded admiral’s bars glinting on his shoulders as he seated himself behind his desk. “My apologies if the journey was a bit more than you were expecting.”

“Not a problem,” Llyn assured him.