Chain of Command – Snippet 19

Sam shook his head. “I gave the order but only after the Captain gave me permission.”

“And the audio track will confirm that?” she said.

“No, the Captain nodded to me. He didn’t speak.”

“And the permanent holo-vid track will confirm that?”

Sam shrugged. “At one frame a second, who knows if you can tell he nodded. But I’m saying he did. You calling me a liar, Filipenko?”

She looked away. “This really stinks. I’m trying to do the right thing, the responsible thing, but it feels ugly and small and …and dirty, like I should go take a sponge bath. I have this feeling no matter what I do, I’ll end up dirty.” She turned and looked at Sam. “The kind of dirt I’ll never scrub off. You know what I mean?”

“I do. You want to not feel dirty? Stop trying to make judgments about things that are above your pay grade. When you leave here, go find Ensign Lee and kick her ass from here to Monday. Tell her what I told you about the captain nodding. Tell her to stop spreading rumors about things she doesn’t know the whole story on, rumors that undermine the authority of the captain and endanger everyone on the boat. Those are breaches of Navy regulations and in wartime constitute a serious offense, punishable by loss of rank, separation from the service, and imprisonment. Explain that you’re telling her that as a favor, because if I have to–as exec–it’ll get ugly.”

Filipenko again looked away. “There wasn’t supposed to be a war, ever again,” she muttered. “And if there was, it wasn’t supposed to feel this way. I hate it, hate all of it. We didn’t sign on for this.”

“Amen,” Sam said, but only to make her feel better. He didn’t really believe it.

In fact all of them had signed on for exactly this. Filipenko had graduated from Annapolis in 2130, with a commission as a regular officer in the United States Navy, with all that entailed. Twelve years earlier, in the fall of ’18, Sam had joined the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at U-Cal San Diego, and if it was mostly for access to the excellent NROTC gliders and sailboats, what difference did that make now? What difference did it make that when they had all agreed to serve, none of them had imagined that it would come to this? Did their lack of imagination relieve them of their obligation?

It occurred to Sam that lack of imagination might actually be an asset in the coming weeks.

His commlink vibrated and he squinted to see the ID of the duty communications petty officer.

“XO,” Sam answered.

Sir, this is Signaler First Class Kramer, communications. I have an incoming request for a holo-conference from USS Pensacola, Task Force flagship.

“They’re about ten hours early. Have you notified the captain?”

Sir, the request is from a Commander Atwater Jones, Royal Navy, and it’s for a one-on-one conference with you, by name, as soon as you’re available.

“That’s funny. I don’t recall knowing anyone in the Royal Navy.”

The second member state of the coalition was the West European Union, but the member states still maintained many of their pre-union national institutions, including their own armed forces. They operated under a unified command, but Sam still wasn’t sure exactly how that all worked. He looked up at Filipenko.

“Lieutenant, can you excuse me? Royal Navy needs a face-to-face.”

“What for?” she said.

Sam shrugged.

“I’m due on watch anyway,” she said and pushed off toward the doorway. “I’ll talk to Ensign Lee.” She closed the hatch behind her.

Sam wondered if she’d bought his story about Huhn nodding. He thought she had, and in any case she seemed to understand the necessity to act as if it were true. He hoped Ensign Lee would as well. If it came to an official board of inquiry, he wasn’t prepared to perjure himself, or torpedo Lee’s career, just to cover for Delmar Huhn’s lapse.

Sam put on his suit helmet, whose optics were necessary for the holo-conference, and triggered his commlink again.

“Okay, Kramer, let’s see what this Jones guy wants.”

Sam waited for a few seconds while Kramer patched the tight beam communicator channel through to his commlink and then the ghostly image of a tall, attractive, red-haired woman in her late thirties or early forties appeared, wearing a dark blue Royal Navy officer’s shipsuit and transparent viewer glasses.

“Um … I’m on the beam for a Commander Jones?” Sam said.

“Atwater-Jones,” she said. “Right, that’s me. You look surprised.”

“I was expecting a man,” he said, and her expression immediately darkened. “No, I just …it was the name. Atwater sounds like a guy is all.”

She squinted at him for a moment and then shook her head. “It’s my family name: Atwater-Jones, hyphenated. My first name is Cassandra.”

Aware he might have gotten off to a bad start, and also aware she outranked him by two grades, Sam tried to think of a way to make amends. “Cassandra’s, um …a nice name.”

“Really? I think it’s a perfectly dreadful name for a naval intelligence officer. Fraught with all sorts of unwanted significance. Wouldn’t have chosen it myself.”

“Well …what can I do for you, Commander?”

“Let me start by presenting my bona fides. I am N2, intelligence chief, to your Admiral Kayumati, part of the allied staff, Combined Task Force One. I believe both our services call the position Smart Boss. The commander of your destroyer division, Captain Bonaventure, forwarded your threat assessment but without any explanation as to how you came to your conclusions. I spoke with him and he had simply passed on the message sent by your captain. Huhn? Isn’t that his name?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Right. As Captain Bonaventure didn’t know any more than I did, he recommended I ring you up. The only information in the burst transmission was as follows: ‘Advise, Stinger Squadron attacked by pellet clouds on high velocity exact reciprocal course. Tac Boss Red Stinger Two believes identical profile attack likely main force. (Signed) Red Stinger Six Actual.’

“You are the TAC Boss?”

“Was. I’m XO now.”

“Congratulations on your promotion. Well-deserved, I’m sure. Now, I’m afraid I’m all in bits over this second attack against the main task force. The only way I can see these attacks launched is as a result of an intelligence leak–two leaks, actually, as the departure times and flight profiles of both forces would have to have been independently discovered and communicated. My question is this: how would the tactical officer on a destroyer, deployed in advance of us, know about those two leaks?”