A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 18


With the flurry of activity that had surrounded the brief Barcan incursion, plus all the reports and datawork afterward, it was three more days before the Committee hearings resumed. During that time Travis nurtured a private hope that they might have forgotten all about him, and that the glaring spotlight would move on.

No such luck. On the second day of the resumed hearings, he was ordered to report for testimony.

To find that Breakwater had managed to up the ante even higher. Not only had Travis been called, but Commodore Heissman had also been summoned to share the hot seat alongside him.

They sat there for over half an hour, answering questions, making statements, and occasionally spotting and respectfully disagreeing with some of the Chancellor’s unstated and more slanted assumptions about the battle and the people who had waged it. For Travis, it seemed to last longer than the battle itself.

And when the session was over, and they’d been dismissed, they finally learned what the Chancellor’s true purpose had been in all of this.

“It seems clear, My Lords,” Breakwater intoned as Travis and Heissman collected their tablets and other gear and headed for the door, “that the Naval Academy has proven itself woefully inadequate in carrying out its chartered duties. I think it’s clear that, with a few exceptions, the officers commanding the Star Kingdom’s ships relied almost exclusively on luck to see them through.”

Travis paused, half turning back. They’d relied on luck?

“Let it go, Lieutenant,” Heissman murmured from beside him.

“We need better than that,” Breakwater continued. “It is therefore my intention to petition the government for a new training facility, one that will be used exclusively for MPARS personnel.”

Travis’s thoughts flashed back to his time at Casey-Rosewood and the Academy, and to the more recent horror stories he’d heard about how adding a trickle of MPARS personnel to the student body was already straining the Navy’s resources to the limit. If Breakwater now raided those resources for a completely new facility —

“Because the last thing we can afford is the stale, by-the-book strategies and tactics we so recently witnessed,” Breakwater concluded.

Travis had been fully prepared to keep his mouth shut, as Heissman had told him, and walk out of the room. But that one he couldn’t let pass.

“Excuse me, My Lord,” he spoke up. “That’s not fair.”

Every eye at the table turned to him. “Not fair?” Breakwater repeated, feigned puzzlement on his face. “Not fair? Tell me, Lieutenant, from your vast military knowledge and experience: how is that unfair?”

Travis clenched his teeth. Once again, he’d opened his mouth without thinking it through. He really needed to stop doing that.

But it was too late to back out now. “With all due respect, My Lord, the tactics of response are defined by the tactics of attack. Tamerlane chose the vectors and timing; the commanders of each Manticoran group assessed and responded with skill and efficiency.”

“The Navy lost five ships,” Breakwater pointed out. “Tamerlane lost three. Is this your idea of efficiency?”

“Two of those three ships were battlecruisers,” Travis countered. “I believe that gives us the win.”

“Let me make my point clearer,” Breakwater said calmly. “The Navy lost five ships. MPARS didn’t lose any. Furthermore, it was an MPARS corvette that took out one of the enemy ships.”

“With the aid of a Navy destroyer,” Travis said. “And in all cases the victories were due to the skill and ingenuity of the officers and crew.”

“Indeed,” Breakwater agreed. “But again, the ingenuity of junior officers and junior crewmembers.” He lifted a hand and started ticking off fingers. “Petty Officer Charles Townsend. Senior Chief Fire Control Tech Lorelei Osterman — all right; a senior, but a senior enlisted. Ensign Fenton Locatelli. And — if I may be so bold — Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long.”

He favored Travis with a thin smile. “But thank you, Lieutenant, for making my case for me.” The smile vanished. “And now, you and Commodore Heissman are dismissed.”

* * *

Heissman was silent during the long walk down the corridor to the building exit. He didn’t speak again, in fact, until they were in their aircar and heading back to their shuttle. Even then he confined his conversation to the current state of Casey’s repairs and the details of upcoming work.

For his part, Travis didn’t dare mention his stupidity in walking straight into Breakwater’s trap. But such reminders were hardly necessary. Sooner or later, he knew, Heissman would have to bring up the fiasco, possibly as part of a formal discipline, possibly as a private, off-the-record dressing down. It was certainly no more than Travis deserved.

But it never happened. Heissman never mentioned the incident again.

Which wasn’t to say that he was happy with how things had gone. Travis was pretty sure he wasn’t. It also wasn’t to say that he hadn’t entered something scathing into Travis’s record. Travis was almost positive he had.

There would be consequences for handing Breakwater more ammunition in his private war against the Navy. It was just a question of what those consequences would be, and when they would begin raining down.

* * *

“Unfortunately, Your Majesty,” Dapplelake said heavily, “for once, the man is right.”

“Really,” King Edward said, long experience first in the Navy and then in Manticoran politics allowing him to keep his voice unemotional and unreadable. “This is almost a first for you.”

“I know,” Dapplelake said sourly. “But if I’m going to call him when he’s wrong, I have to be fair when he’s right. And Casey-Rosewood and the Academy simply cannot accommodate the kind of personnel MPARS is going to need in the near future. We’re barely holding our own now.”

“If we don’t give Breakwater his own training center, we’ll have to cut back on Navy personnel,” Locatelli added from the seat beside him. “And this would be the absolute worst time to do that.”

“Agreed,” Edward said, peering down at his tablet and the figures the Defense Minister had just sent across.

The numbers were impressive. Edward had assumed that the sheer number of deaths resulting from the battle would have a dampening effect on enlistment. It had been just the opposite. Manticore was mourning, yes; but Manticore was also mad as hell. The Navy recruiters were overwhelmed, and the data shufflers were having to scramble to process all the applicants showing up at the centers.

It was immensely gratifying to see his subjects coming defiantly together against their unknown enemy. But the surge of emotion that was driving this wouldn’t last. As the memories of that terrible day faded, people would start returning to their lives and their hopes and their pre-battle goals. This was the time to grab as many people as possible, and everyone at the table knew it.

So, surely, did Breakwater. MPARS enlistments weren’t nearly at the Navy’s level, but they were definitely on the rise. Now, while the warm and willing bodies were still excited at the prospect of defending the Star Kingdom, was no time to put obstacles and cooling-off time in front of them.

“If he gets his own academy, you’ll need to supply him with some of the instructors,” Edward reminded Dapplelake. “Possibly all of them. Can you afford to pull that many people?”

“No, but it’s not quite as bad as it looks,” Dapplelake said, tapping his tablet. Edward’s own tablet flickered, and a new set of names appeared. “Our thought is to give him the smallest number of instructors we can get away with, and then fill in whatever else is needed with Navy officers whose ships are still undergoing repairs. Most of those officers and chiefs would be somewhat underemployed anyway, so we could probably spare them. That way Breakwater gets what he wants — and what the Star Kingdom needs, I suppose — without seriously damaging the Navy’s own manpower buildup.”

“It does seem the best of less-than-ideal options,” Edward agreed, running his eyes down the list. He recognized a fair number of the names, and he mostly remembered them as competent. Some of them would squawk, of course, particularly some of the officers from the Peerage who had gone into the Navy for the prestige and what they’d thought would be easy jobs. One, in particular, he would bet money would use the term slumming in regards to a transfer to an MPARS training facility.

But at this point Edward didn’t care about inconvenience or bruised egos. If Manticore needed a new training facility, it would get one.

And then, as he scrolled down the list, a message box suddenly appeared in the lower corner.

Princess on rooftop with glider. Advise.

Edward glared at the tablet. Again?

Why did his daughter always do this kind of thing when Cindy wasn’t home to pin her ears back? She knew better than that — or if she didn’t, it wasn’t because she hadn’t been told often enough.

An instant later his brief flush of anger morphed into a quiet stab of guilt. With some teens, this would be a cry for help or attention. With Sophie, it was simply a matter that she wanted to do something fun and resented the new restrictions on her life.

As a father, Edward could understand that. Hell, he resented his new restrictions.

As for the timing, as a former Navy officer, he also knew exactly why she pulled these stunts when her mother wasn’t at home. It was called tactics.

Still, this had to stop. Edward had talked about it until he was blue in the face. Clearly, he hadn’t gotten through. Maybe it was time for someone else to give it a try.

Call her Aunt Elizabeth to deal with it, he typed back.

“Your Majesty?” Dapplelake asked.

“My apologies,” Edward said, looking up again. “You were saying?”

“I was just listing the facilities we could spare from Casey-Rosewood,” Dapplelake said, tapping another list to Edward’s tablet. “We’re thinking that we might be able to move some of the advanced tech classes to the Academy. It’ll take some schedule juggling, but I think we can pull it off.” He made a face. “Of course, the cadets probably won’t appreciate having to share space with enlisted. But at this point, I really don’t care.”