Chain of Command – Snippet 34

“Damned if I know,” she said. “I really had better find out, hadn’t I?”

“Let me just make sure I got all of this squared away,” Rivera said. “The uBakai are cranking up the heat in the war, from everything I read in the intel brief they can double or triple their available ships here, our cruisers blow up when they look cross-eyed at them, and the missiles on our destroyer don’t work.”

“Yes, that last bit’s something of a challenge. I’d get on fixing those missiles right away,” Atwater-Jones said.

“We’re screwed,” Rivera said, barely containing her anger, or was it fear?

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” the intelligence officer replied.

“No? Why not?”

“Because I am paid not to. Come to think of it, so are you. I believe what you are paid for is producing good results under trying conditions. I doubt you will ever in your career get a better opportunity to demonstrate that aptitude than you have right now.”

For a moment all Sam heard was the faint whisper of the air circulation system in his cabin.

“Easy for you to say, sitting on the command ship,” Rivera answered. Sam looked over at her holo-image. She gripped the arms of her acceleration rig hard enough to make her knuckles white, and her eyes had narrowed to slits. Sam didn’t like the situation much either, but he didn’t see how insulting the task force N-2 was going to improve things.

“Not altogether easy,” Atwater-Jones replied carefully. “Of course the real trick is to make difficult jobs look easy. You might work on that, Captain Rivera.”

And then she cut her transmission.

“Nice one, boss,” Sam said to Rivera. She looked at him for a moment, eyes cold, and then cut her own feed. Sam looked over at Captain Wu on Petersburg, who gave an elaborate shrug and then cut his transmission.

Well, the situation may be hopeless, but at least we’ll die among friends.

Sam kept his faceplate down so his next conversation would be private. He squinted up the commlink code for Marina Filipenko. She should hear the news of this attack on her home directly from him.


Vice-Captain Takaar Nuvaash, Speaker for the Enemy, made way as a damage abatement party glided past in the weightless operations core of KBk Five One Seven, then continued to grip the handhold as two other crewmen passed, guiding three long bundles–bodies of crewmen wrapped in white death shrouds. The composite liner of one must have been torn because Nuvaash saw a red stain spreading along the side of the bundle. He closed his eyes and tried to master his growing anger and confusion.

A hand touched his arm. His eyes jerked open and he saw Senior Lieutenant e-Toveri, one of the few officers on the cruiser whose company he enjoyed.

“I am sorry, my friend, if I startled you,” e-Toveri said. He tethered himself to a wall stanchion, then dug a short length of crushed Taba root from a plastic pouch and slipped it into his mouth between this gum and lip. He shook his head and nodded toward the two crewmen and their somber cargo.

“A difficult business, this is turning out to be. Two more dead forward who we could not get to without hard suits and cutting torches, these three here, and I hear three more in engineering. Koomik’koh is one of them.”

Nuvaash felt the news course through him like a wave of electricity, searing the nerves it surged through.

“Koomik’koh. I knew him,” Nuvaash said, the traditional acknowledgement of the passing of a friend–the only other officer on the cruiser Nuvaash could honestly say that of.

“As did I,” e-Toveri responded. “He inspired me to rise above the commonplace. He drove me to become better than I am.”

“He made me laugh,” Nuvaash answered honestly. Koomik’koh was the only officer on the cruiser who had.

e-Toveri touched his arm again and then pushed off to glide down the corridor, and soon Nuvaash was alone.

None of this made any sense!

Why would the home government support a war of aggression against the Humans when that war would bring glory to the Navy, the main agents of the failed military coup a year ago? Why? There must be a hidden reason.

Then he remembered–a report had arrived shortly after the battle describing the course of ground combat on K’tok. Something about it had struck him as odd, but his attention was absorbed in helping stem the loss of atmosphere and directing damage abatement parties, and in the chaos and urgency of saving the ship the message had slipped his mind. Now it was back with its annoying itch of vague wrongness. He rested the back of his head in one of the wireless datalink alcoves spaced along the corridor. Not all of them were still live, after the damage they had sustained, but this one was. He activated his surgically embedded commlink and contacted the ship’s e-synaptic memory core.

Load ground status report received Day Seven, Tenmonth Waxing.


Access visual.

Nuvaash donned his viewer glasses and scanned the virtual image of the report which appeared in his optic centers. What had caught his attention? Then he saw it, at the bottom, the signature: Villi Murhaach, Governor Plenipotentiary of K’tok. That wasn’t the name of the governor he remembered.

When had they arrived in-system? About two and a half months ago.

Identity of Governor Plenipotentiary of K’tok, Day Seven, Sevenmonth Waning.

Tinjeet e-Rauhaan

Yes, his memory was not betraying him. When had that changed?

Circumstances of replacement of e-Rauhaan by Murhaach as governor.

Tinjeet e-Rauhaan killed in groundcar accident on Nine of Ninemonth Waxing. Replaced same day as governor plenipotentiary of K’tok, in accordance with statute, by deputy governor Villi Murhaach.

Killed in a groundcar accident? e-Rauhaan must have been the unluckiest governor in history. Nuvaash could not remember the last time he had heard of an autocar malfunctioning dramatically enough to result in a fatality.

Day Nine of Ninemonth waxing. Now why did that date stick in his mind? Oh, of course.

List date KBk Five One Seven fired first multiple target ordnance in K’tok system.

Ten of Ninemonth Waxing.

Yes, they had fired the first shot of the war the day after e-Rauhaan had died and was replaced by Murhaach.

Nuvaash accessed background files on both the former and current governor. Tinjeet e-Rauhaan, a politician widely known for his moderate views, had worked to reduce violence with Human colonists along the frontier zone. Not the sort of politician who would have approved of this war at all. News feeds described Murhaach, on the other hand, as a firebrand, an extreme anti-Humanist, who had been appointed to the largely ceremonial position of deputy governor only as a political concession to the opposition. But then, suddenly and unexpectedly, he had become governor, and heir to the governor’s plenipotentiary power.

Nuvaash broke the link to the ship’s memory core and floated in the corridor, thinking the puzzle through, arranging the pieces.

Plenipotentiary powers: plenipotentiary meant the governor spoke with the full force of the home government and could act locally in its stead. Technically it meant the governor could launch the nation upon a war, but Nuvaash had never heard of that power being used–at least before now. The preemptive attack was not the sort of thing e-Rauhaan would ever have countenanced, while Murhaach would have embraced it immediately, used his extraordinary powers to authorize it, all of which was unprecedented and irregular, yet entirely legal. But …

But Nuvaash had been briefed on the attack plan four days before e-Rauhaan’s death, and at that time KBk Five One Seven had already been on its firing course for two days. The plan must have been made even earlier.

Why would anyone make a plan which relied upon the complicity of a planetary governor who would never agree to it–a plan which could be carried through only by virtue of the convenient, but presumably unforeseeable, death of that governor, and his replacement by the fanatical Murhaach?

Nuvaash knew the answer to that question, and the answer froze him in place in the corridor, momentarily paralyzing his muscles and emptying his mind.

Nothing had made sense since this operation began, but now Nuvaash saw clearly it was because of their habitual Varoki willing embrace of secrecy in every aspect of their lives. The shadow brotherhoods which formed a hidden layer of cross-cutting ambitions and allegiances below the surface of Varoki society, the complex jostling of wealth and ideology, privilege and pride in successive layers of political and corporate governance, had rendered the true motivations for public acts seemingly unknowable. The Varoki were used to things not appearing to make sense, used to the idea that the real reasons for actions were complex and concealed–so used to it that it no longer occurred to them that someone might simply be lying.  Their suspicious nature did not protect them from deceit; on the contrary, it made them defenseless against it.

We are dupes, Nuvaash thought, a race of dupes.