Chain of Command – Snippet 21

Chapter Ten

7 December 2133 (ten hours later) (fourteen days from K’tok orbit)

Sam’s relationship with Captain Huhn had proved as constant and predictable as the energy output of an eruptive variable star.

The day after the attack, and after the first promising conversation, Huhn had ignored Sam when in the same room and sent a series of increasingly brusque orders by commlink.

The next day Chief Navarro had given Sam a badly needed education in his duties.

The day after that Huhn had called Sam to his cabin during the afternoon watch, delivered his rambling monologue about his trust in Larry Goldjune having vanished, and sent Sam away with the admonition that the two of them needed to stick together in the face of their “enemies.”

For the entire next day and the following one, Huhn remained in his cabin with orders not to be disturbed except for contact with the enemy or incoming communications addressed to him. Sam should handle everything else. Those were the two days before the scheduled rendezvous with Combined Task Force One. Sam knew that Huhn and Goldjune had been close and Goldjune turning on him must have shaken the captain up badly. He hadn’t know the cause of the break then, but he now suspected that Ensign Lee’s take on Huhn freezing on the auxiliary bridge the day of the attack was at the core of it. Lee had shared her thoughts with Marina Filipenko; wouldn’t she do the same with her department head and lover?

Six hours after Sam’s conference with Commander Atwater-Jones in the afternoon of the rendezvous, Puebla and the other boats of their division–Destroyer Division Three–received a tight-beam burst transmission to be ready for a holo-briefing by senior staff of the task force in two hours. The briefing would include the command teams of all four DDRs of DesDiv Three: USS Oaxaca, Tacambaro, Queretaro, and Puebla, all patched into the same virtual conference space. Each DDR’s command team was limited to three officers: captain, executive officer, and Tac Boss.

Perhaps Huhn would settle down after the briefing–it had only been five days since the attack, only five days of war. They knew the barest outline of a plan but no details, few specifics of what they were expected to do beyond hang back with Hornet and act as a reserve. Maybe this briefing would do the trick, give Huhn something to focus on. Sam hoped so.

Whatever animosity he had felt toward Delmar Huhn had faded, although he could not say why. He felt no affection for the captain, not even sympathy. Instead it was as if Sam drove an aged ground car across the desert and Del Huhn was its engine–sputtering, overheating, losing power. He felt no emotions for the engine except anxiety and desperation to keep it running until he reached safety.

Perhaps it would have been different if Huhn had stalked the boat, finding fault with officers and crew, delivering harangues, but Sam had not seen him in almost three days. As far as he knew no one had, except probably the mess attendants who delivered his meals. The captain communicated occasionally by voice commlink, more often simply by text memos. Perhaps Sam’s animosity had faded because Del Huhn seemed to have faded.

Twenty minutes later, Sam’s commlink vibrated and he squinted up the ID tag of Yeoman Fischer.

“What’s up, Fischer?”

Sir, the captain said to ping you and say you won’t need to show for the holo-briefing. Lieutenant Goldjune will take your slot.

“Understood. Thanks, Fischer.”

Now that was odd. As far as Sam knew, the task force staff’s instructions had been specific. Huhn must have gotten permission to change the line-up. And had he patched things up with Larry Goldjune? Possibly. Or maybe he’d rather be surrounded by fellow-regulars, not a reservist like Sam.

He tasted something sour, felt his face flush as resentment bubbled up within him. He should be in that briefing, goddamnit –either as executive officer or as Tac Boss. Huhn turning the tactical department over to Filipenko was asking for trouble. She was smart enough, but so far she hadn’t shown the fire in her to own the job rather than just go through the motions. What was Huhn thinking? What was that coward, that pathetic emotional cripple, ever thinking about but his own sense of aggrieved entitlement?

Sam leaned back and took a deep, shuddering breath.

Damn! Get a grip.

Right, it wasn’t about Del Huhn’s grievances or disappointments, and it wasn’t about his either. It was just about the boat.

So suck it up, Bitka.

Sam looked at his desk display. He had been in the middle of finishing the certifications for promotion of seven petty officers. Two of them, including Joyce Menzies, were to fill chief slots they badly needed to fill–actually were just formal confirmation of the acting promotions they’d already made. He already had his hands full with work that needed doing, right?

He looked around at the walls of the office, set to mimic the view from a small island in the Pacific, kilometers of slowly rolling ocean stretching all the way to a horizon made indistinct by low scattered clouds.

“This job stinks.” he told the ocean.

He shook his head, pushed the mass of contradictory thoughts and emotions aside, and got back to work.


An hour and forty minutes later, when the holo-conference was to start, Sam’s commlink vibrated and he heard the ID tone of Captain Huhn.

“Yes, sir?”

Bitka, I know you think your paperwork should take precedence but I need you to helmet up for the briefing.

“Aye, aye, sir, if that’s what you want.”

Of course it’s what I want. Why else would I say it?

“Well, Yeoman Fischer told me you wanted Lieutenant Goldjune to take my place, sir, but I’m happy to sit in.”

Sam snapped on his helmet and immediately found himself in the holo-conference, flanked by Huhn’s virtual self to his left and Filipenko’s to his right. Both of them looked embarrassed and he saw a variety of grins and scowls on the other faces, which made him realize he had been live to the conference during his exchange with Huhn. What had the captain said earlier that made Sam’s words so embarrassing?

“I’ll have to speak with Yeoman Fischer,” Huhn said with anger in his voice. “There was apparently a misunderstanding.”

Ah! Huhn must not have gotten permission to alter the conference attendee list, then when he’d been called on it had lied, and then had his lie exposed.

“I may have misunderstood, sir,” Sam said. Whoever was at fault, it sure as hell wasn’t Yeoman Fischer. Better for Sam to take the heat.

“Very well,” Huhn said without looking at him.

Commander Bonaventure–Captain Tall, Dark, and Greasy, as Jules had once described him–captain of Oaxaca and commander of the Third Destroyer Division (ComDesDiv Three in Navy parlance), sat with his team to Huhn’s left. The virtual images of the command teams of Tacambaro and Queretaro sat to Filipenko’s right, all of them forming a shallow crescent.

The images of three senior officers faced them, floating slightly below their level and looking up. Two wore the white shipsuits of US Navy officers. The man on the right was vaguely familiar but Sam did not recognize the short, stocky, and formidable-looking woman in the center, who was clearly in charge. She wore the four stripes of a full captain–not the job, but the rank, one step short of an admiral Her hair was gray, her expression ferocious, and her build reminiscent of a fireplug.