Chain of Command – Snippet 31

Chapter Sixteen

24 December 2133 (thirty minutes later) (third day in K’tok orbit)

The wardroom was crowded, holding all the off-duty officers in white as well as the khaki-clad senior chiefs, almost a dozen total. Sam paused at the open hatch. He’d had the mess attendants set the wardroom’s smart walls to mimic the HRVS optics pointed laterally, so K’tok–enormous, blue, and cloud-wrapped–dominated the view to port. They were just coming up on the needle, a shining golden thread impossibly long, stretching all the way down into K’Tok’s atmosphere and over forty thousand kilometers up to its orbiting counterweight. Somewhere down at the bottom of it, Human troops held a small bridgehead on the planet surface, and were counting on support from a task force that had just been shot to pieces.

But that wasn’t his immediate problem.

Realistically, he figured he had one chance to win Puebla’s officers and chiefs over. He knew he’d have plenty of chances to lose them later, but that wouldn’t make any difference if he couldn’t even make this first meeting click.

No pressure.

“Atten-shun!” one of the chiefs barked and the officers and chiefs snapped to smartly enough, although several of them weren’t tethered and so started drifting slowly across the compartment.

Sam took in a slow breath.

Okay. It’s a staff meeting. You’ve run these before. Maybe not in space, not in the middle of a war, but the principle’s the same: don’t let them see you sweat.

“As you were,” Sam said. “I’m having this meeting piped to the crew so we’re all on the same page. I just talked to Admiral Kayumati half an hour ago. We’ll get a complete report later, but what it boils down to is we got our asses kicked. We were very lucky on Puebla to come away with just a few bruises. Eight vessels are total write-offs, including three cruisers and two destroyers, and most of their crews are dead.”

They had suspected bad news but he could see from their faces this was worse than expected.

“We probably all lost friends today. I had friends on Bully Big Dick. Captain Chelanga … well, she was a hell of a lady. When you’re back in your cabins, take a moment, remember them, but right now we’ve got too much work to do.

“I wish like hell I could tell you Puebla got a piece of those bastards, but we didn’t. It wasn’t your fault. You got our missiles out the tube faster than any other unit in the task force, except Bully, and near as I can tell we had the best target solutions. The problem is our damned missiles are broken. None of the destroyers got any hits, so it looks like the problem is in the Block Four missile design.”

Sam scanned the group and was pleased–and a little surprised–to see Marina Filipenko and Joe Burns, his Tac Boss and Bull Tac, floating side-by-side.

“Lieutenant Filipenko, Chief Burns, that’s the tactical department’s big job. Figure out what’s wrong with the missiles and fix it. Get Chief Menzies in on this, too. Nobody knows those Block Fours better than she does. Contact the other destroyers and get together with their tac-heads. Tight beam Hornet and see what their squints have to say. We’ve got a machine shop and fabricators, so you should be able to jury-rig something. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

He turned to the operations staff next but found Gordy Cunningham, the Bull Ops, floating next to Constancia Navarro and Chief Pete Montoya from engineering, with Ensign Barb Lee on the other side of the wardroom.

“Ensign Lee, Chief Cunningham, I’ve got two jobs for the operations department. First, figure out a way to get a quick and dirty map of the asteroid belt so we can detect ships by stellar occlusion, even with asteroids behind them. This time they hit us from above, but those uBakai shitheads like to play hide-and-seek with the asteroids, and I’m sick of it.”

“Sir, I don’t know how we can manage that,” Lee said.

Lee had been calm and confident under fire only two hours earlier. She had been the same, he remembered, during the first attack three weeks ago. It was odd seeing her hesitant and unsure of herself in a meeting. Maybe her brain needed a good shot of adrenaline to get going, or maybe she’d settle down once she got away from the crowd and back to a workstation.

“Genius, Ensign Lee. Give me an act of genius.

“Now here’s operations department’s number two job. Lieutenant Goldjune will take this one when he’s done with the software patch he’s working on, but you pass it on to him. We lost six ships today that the uBakai never touched with a fire lance missile. They made their jump drives cycle and it killed the ships and everyone in them. Nobody knows how they did it.

“Get with Task Force intel, pour over their data, our data, ship specs, whatever we have. How come those six ships blew up and the other eight jump-equipped ships in the task force didn’t? Start there. If we don’t figure out a way to keep our cruisers from blowing up, there’s going to be nobody left to hold the fort but us and two other destroyers. Anybody here think that sounds like a good plan?”

He looked around and got a lot of shaking heads and a smattering of no‘s.


“Lieutenant Hennessey, Chief Montoya, engineering’s only job is to get us operational, and as quickly as possible. Any off-watch personnel from any other department with usable skills, you take ’em. Lieutenant Goldjune’s finishing the software patch to bias the thrust nozzles, and I just told Admiral Kayumati we’d be ready to maneuver in three hours.”

“Three hours?” Hennessey repeated. “How long before Goldjune’s done with the software patch?”

“No idea, but it was advertised as ‘soon.’ Don’t look at me like that, Lieutenant. I’d give you an easy job if I had one, but there just aren’t any today.

“And Lieutenant Rice, our supply officer. The task force lost one transport and two fleet auxiliaries today, almost half our support vessels. That’s going to mean trouble supplying the troops on the ground. Find out how bad the situation is and what they may need. It’s not our job yet, but it might end up that way, so if it does, let’s get out ahead of it mentally.”

“I’m on it,” Moe answered.

Sam scanned the faces. The men and women in front of him didn’t look happy or cheerful, but they didn’t look in shock either. Their minds were engaged, every department had a job to do, and for now that was as good as he could manage.


“Yes, sir, I got one,” Gordy Cunningham, the Bull Ops said. “What the hell collided with us during the battle? Was that Pensacola’s shuttle?”

“We took a hit from an uBakai fire lance missile, Chief,” Sam answered.

“You mean it ran right into us? I thought they just shot a laser.”

“That’s right, it shot a laser and the laser hit us.”

Cunningham shook his head. “No, a laser would’ve cut through, right? This felt like something big slammed right into us.”

Sam heard a mutter of agreement from the others, all except Chief Burns who looked at the others as if they were crazy. Joe Burns had been the chief of the weapons division before he moved up to Bull Tac, so he knew fire lance missiles and what they did. Didn’t everyone? No, apparently not.

“Okay. Um … you’re right about lasers cutting the target, but only if the laser is at lower power and has a long burn time, say a second or more. A fire lance, when its warhead blows, pumps its laser rods once, and then they’re vaporized by the detonation within a nanosecond or two. That’s one or two billionths of a second. So the actual pulse of the rod is less than that, but in that instant it delivers about a gigajoule of energy to the target. That’s the equivalent of, what, Chief Burns? Isn’t that about two hundred kilos of explosives?”