A Call To Arms – Snippet 33

Castillo grunted as he unstrapped from his station. “No need to be sorry, Lieutenant. There’s just a need to learn.” He waved at the tac display. “As I said, that kind of trick takes careful timing and a great deal of skill. But it also requires a fair amount of luck. Your job as an officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy is to cultivate both. And to always assume that your opponent has done likewise.”

He floated out of his chair, steadied himself a moment, then gave himself a shove that sent him floating swiftly across the bridge. Quickly, Travis moved sideways to get out of his way. “Mr. Sladek, return ship to Readiness Five,” the Captain called over his shoulder. “Mr. Long, you may return to your station for debriefing.”

“Yes, Sir,” Travis said. Lesson delivered, and lesson learned, and the captain was back to business as usual.

Travis would remember the day’s lesson, he promised himself. The whole lesson.

Very, very well.

* * *

“Understand, Allegra,” Castillo said, “that what I’ve told you is to remain strictly between the two of us.”

“Of course,” Metzger said, a sour taste in her mouth. So simple. So obvious.

And really, so inevitable.

Lieutenant Travis Long, an inventive and clever young man, but an absolute rule-stickler, especially where proper maintenance and operational procedure were concerned. Ensign Fenton Locatelli, not inventive at all, driven by a sense of family history toward a greatness that could only be earned and wouldn’t be his for years, if it ever was. Of course the two of them would clash. And clashing over maintaining a piece of junk equipment that neither had realized was damaged and couldn’t be maintained had drawn the attention of the ensign’s justly distinguished uncle.

Castillo was a good officer, and a good captain. But he was also acutely aware of how the Star Kingdom worked, and of the turmoil that rumbled at the political intersection of Navy and Lords. Long’s ongoing trouble with Ensign Locatelli not only could be played to the advantage of the Navy’s opponents somewhere down the line, but it also put Castillo’s own position and standing at risk.

And so when the opportunity had presented itself, he’d opted to give Long a reminder that no one was perfect. Only it wouldn’t work, Metzger knew. Long might be cowed for now, but sooner or later his inability to look the other way on these things would reassert itself. And if Ensign Locatelli got in the way, Long wouldn’t hesitate to write him up.

Long was a good spacer. But he really had no idea how the political games were played.

And she was pretty sure Castillo knew it, too.

“What are your plans?” she asked.

“Ideally, I’d like to separate them,” Castillo said heavily. “Leave one in Forward Weapons and move the other to Aft Autocannon. The problem is that Long is really too qualified to kick back there, and I doubt the Admiral would take kindly to me moving his nephew.”

“How about simply transferring one of them off your ship?”

“How?” Castillo countered. “I’ve more or less promised to keep Locatelli for a while — don’t ask — and last I checked there weren’t any likely Gunnery Officer openings in the fleet where I could put Long.”

“How about something on shore?”

“He just came out of BuShips. Sending him back would probably look bad on his record, and I really don’t want to do that to him. Personality clashes aside, he’s really a pretty good officer.”

“And a smart one, too,” Metzger said, a sudden thought occurring to her. It would be a bit of a stretch, but nothing so far out of the ordinary that it would raise any red flags. “What was your assessment of Long’s performance? Off the record?”

“Off the record, he did okay,” Castillo said. “Especially considering he was thrown into it without any warning. A little more experience and training and he’ll probably make a pretty fair tactical officer.”

“How about right now?” Metzger asked. “Not TO, of course, but ATO?”

“You know an ATO slot that’s open?”

“Maybe,” Metzger said. “Casey is just about finished with her refit. Maybe that slot’s still open.”

“You must be joking,” Castillo said with a snort. “Half the RMN wants aboard that ship.”

“Which means it may still be under consideration,” Metzger pointed out. “If I were you, I’d send the suggestion directly to Defense Minister Dapplelake.”

There was a short pause. “Dapplelake,” Castillo repeated, his tone gone a little flat. “Is there something about Long that I should know, Captain?”

“Nothing relevant,” Metzger hedged. There were details about the Secour incident that were still known only to the Star Kingdom’s top leaders, details which Metzger herself was still under orders not to talk about.

But the Defense Minister knew all about Long’s contribution in turning that potential disaster into a slightly tarnished victory. He knew, and King Edward knew. Between them, they should be able to pull all the necessary strings.

“All I can tell you is that the Defense Minister has all the relevant data,” she added.

“All right, I’ll give it a try,” Castillo said. “But only because you’ve got me intrigued. And if it actually goes through, you’re going to owe me a drink.”

“Next time we’re on Manticore,” Metzger promised.

“And,” Castillo added, “you’re going to owe me an explanation. One that’s as every bit as full as my glass.”

“Absolutely,” Metzger said with a smile. “One half-full glass, on me.”

* * *

For the next five days Travis walked around on figurative eggshells, waiting for the inevitable fallout from his part in the fiasco.

To his surprise, no such fallout materialized. Or at least nothing materialized in his direction. There were vague rumors that Captain Castillo was spending an unusual amount of time in his cabin on the com with System Command, but no details were forthcoming and Travis himself was never summoned into his presence. Given that Phoenix was about to settle in for some serious refitting, chances were good that that was the main topic of any such extended communications.

Phoenix was slipping into its designated slot in Manticore orbit, and Travis was finally starting to breathe easy again, when the shoe finally dropped.

* * *

“You’re joking,” Fornier said, staring wide-eyed from across the cabin. “After all that, you’re being promoted?”

“I’m being transferred, anyway,” Travis corrected. “I still think the promotion is a mistake.”

“Please,” Fornier said dryly. “BuPers doesn’t make mistakes like that. Or at least, they don’t admit to it. Besides, just getting put aboard Casey is a hell of a step up all by itself.”

“Maybe,” Travis growled as he arranged his dress uniform tunic carefully at the top of his travel bag. “But if Locatelli’s behind this, hell may very well be the relevant neighborhood.”

Fornier shook his head. “You’re way too young to be this cynical,” he said. “Anyway, who says Locatelli’s hand is anywhere near this? For all you know it was Castillo who recommended you for Casey’s ATO.”

“With my sterling performance on the bridge during that drill cementing it?” Travis shook his head. “Not likely.”

“Fine,” Fornier said, clearly starting to lose his wedge-class patience level. “So Castillo decided you needed a lesson in humility. Welcome to the human race. But maybe while he was delivering the message he also saw something he liked about you, some potential that hadn’t come through before.”

“I doubt it,” Travis said. “About all I did was regurgitate what was in the manual. Or half of what was in the manual. No, given Heissman’s reputation, I think they all just want me out from under Castillo’s fatherly care and underneath a genuine hammer for a while.”

For a moment Fornier was silent. Travis looked around the cabin, mentally counting out the items he’d already packed and trying to figure out if he’d missed anything.

“There are two ways to approach life, Travis,” Fornier said into his thoughts. “One: you can expect that everyone’s out to get you, and be alert and ready for trouble at every turn. Or two: you can assume that most people are friendly or at least neutral, and that most of the time things will work out.”

“Seems to me option two is an invitation to get walked on.”

“Oh, I never said you don’t need to be ready for trouble.” Fornier grinned suddenly. “Hey, we’re Navy officers. It’s our job to be ready for trouble. I’m just saying that if you’re always expecting betrayal, you’re never going to be able to trust anyone.” He shrugged. “And speaking from my own experience, there are a fair number of people out there who are worth your trust. Not all of them. But enough.”

“Maybe,” Travis said, sealing his travel bag and picking it up. “I’ll take it under advisement.” He held out his hand. “It’s been great serving and rooming with you, Brad. Keep in touch, okay?”

“Will do,” Fornier promised, grasping Travis’s hand in a firm grip and shaking it. “Best of luck.”