Chain of Command – Snippet 38

Navarro had seen this coming, and Sam had as well, perhaps with less certainty. Admiral Kayumati had hinted at it in his and Sam’s only holo-conference. But the task force staff could have given them some warning. Were they that worried about how the destroyer crews would react? Or had they just not made a firm decision until now? Sam wasn’t sure which option sounded worse.

“Captain Bonaventure, you will detach DDR-10, Tacambaro, to remain with Hornet as a close escort,” Kleindienst continued.

Bonaventure’s face colored and his eyebrows rose.

Tacambaro? Ma’am, we lost the coil gun on Oaxaca, and Queretaro lost half its power ring. Taco’s my only fully operational boat. You can’t pull it and expect us to …what is it you expect?

“I can pull it and I just did,” Kleindienst said. “The task force is only taking a single destroyer so it needs to be fully operational. Your mission is to hold the orbital space above K’tok until relieved by friendly forces, and support the ground troops to the extent of your ability.”

“What friendly forces?” Bonaventure asked, his eyes still wide with exasperation.

“Destroyer Division Five is inbound from Mogo orbit and should reach you within the week. In addition, reinforcements are being prepared for dispatch from Earth. They may already be on the way, we don’t know for sure.”

“How are we supposed to support the ground troops?” Bonaventure demanded. “We don’t have orbital bombardment munitions, or any way to launch them if we did.”

“The two surviving cruisers are off-loading their bombardment munitions dispensers in low orbit. You will have to improvise a means of aiming and firing them, but the task force operations department is working on a communications network upgrade for you now. We’re also leaving a two-seater orbital tug with each group of dispensers to aid in repositioning them.”

Kleindienst’s answers sounded rehearsed, which made sense. She’d clearly thought through the obvious questions they would ask. For a moment Bonaventure stared at her, mouth open. Sam exchanged a look with Captain Mike Wu of Petersburg, who shrugged.

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” Wu said, “but if the cruisers are off-loading ordnance in orbit, we could use some of their Mark Three missiles as well. We can reposition them in a higher orbit and once they’re powered down they’d be all but undetectable.”

“Yes, good idea,” Bonaventure said, nodding vigorously. “When the uBakai show up, we can give them a nice surprise.”

“You’ll have to use some of your own missiles for that,” Kleindienst answered.

“Beggin’ your pardon, Ma’am,” Wu said, “but our Mark Fives are designed for launch by coil guns. They don’t really have any thrust of their own, except for some ability to take evasive action. But those Mark Threes are self-flying, with their own thrusters. We can–”

“The cruisers need all their missiles,” Kleindienst said, cutting him off. “Any other questions?”

Bonaventure shook his head, more in exasperation than negation, Sam thought. The silence stretched out for several seconds.

“What about logistics?” Sam finally asked. “Not ours, but the troops down in the dirt.”

“The composite brigade’s rear support company has secured the needle highstation,” she answered. “The fleet auxiliaries have off-loaded the supplies the troops on the ground need, in proximate orbit with the highstation. The support company will see to moving it down the needle, but if they need some help, pitch in.”

“Yes, but what about the lost fabricators for the British cohort?” Sam said. “Did they ever get the codes to let the other units fabricate for them?”

Kleindienst’s eyebrows went up for a moment, perhaps surprised that Sam knew this detail of the supply arrangements.

“The British are stretching their own supplies by using captured small arms and ammunition,” she said.

That would be a no.

“Speaking of logistics,” Bonaventure said, “we could sure use Hornet here in orbit to support us. It has the best facilities for retrofitting the warhead patch on the Mark Five Block Four missiles, so we could get up and running quicker. I think Commander Rivera’s division could probably use a missile resupply as well, and Hornet’s magazines are full.”

Hornet’s too vulnerable to leave here in orbit,” Kleindienst said, “and we’ll need its workshops to support the task force at Mogo. Transfer whatever material you need from Hornet today, before you start your deceleration burn. Clear it through the task force N-4 first.”

“That’s only about six hours, Ma’am,” Bonaventure said.


Sam looked at the others and saw grim expressions. Everything he’d heard so far sounded as if they were being written off.

“Ma’am, our crews are coming up on six weeks in zero gee,” Sam said. “Any chance of rotating them to the cruisers and transports for at least a day in a spin habitat wheel?”

“No, there isn’t time. We expect to have a relief force to you well before you experience serious zero gee health issues.”

Or else we’ll be dead by then, Sam thought.

No one said anything for several seconds, then Juanita Rivera spoke, the first time she had spoken in the meeting.

“Yeah, let me get this right.”

Sam looked at her. She looked about as angry as she had by the end of the Atwater-Jones briefing.

“The task force is taking three combatants–two cruisers and a destroyer–and leaving six combatants–our destroyers–here to carry out the primary mission, with four more destroyers on the way.”

“That is correct, Captain Rivera. Did you have a question?”

Si, Seňora. Which of our destroyers is Admiral Kayumati moving his flag to?”

Sam suppressed a smile. She had a bigger set than he did, or just the confidence which came from being a long-service regular who had spent years preparing to be a boat captain. Wherever it came from, sometimes it took real guts to point out the obvious: that the commanding admiral’s place just might be at the point of greatest danger and strategic importance.

Kleindienst straightened, her eyes narrowed, and color came to her fleshy cheeks. “There will be five combatants at Mogo once we rendezvous there, including our heaviest elements. That will be the task force center of gravity, and that is where the admiral needs to be.”

“Five?” Sam said. “I thought the two cruisers at Mogo were inbound and due here in six days.”

“Their jump drives make them too vulnerable. They will do a fly-by and slingshot maneuver to follow the main body to Mogo.”

So they really were on their own. The chief of staff glared at each of the ship captains in succession, as if daring them to ask another question. After several seconds of silence, she cut the connection.

Kleindienst disappeared, along with the virtual briefing room background, but the four captains, surrounded by ghostly details of their cabins, continued to float in what was now a featureless, dimensionless gray void. Looking into it gave Sam a sensation of vertigo and so he looked at Bonaventure, concentrated on his face.

“I kept the connection open because I wanted to add something,” Bonaventure said. “This sounds like a raw deal. I don’t like it any more than anyone else. But you got a big mouth, Juanita, and you came real close to open insubordination with the chief of staff. You need to put a lid on that defeatist bullshit, understood? All of us need to work together to get through this.”

“Bullshit? Jesús, listen to you, Pablo! A commodore for five minutes and already you talk like el almirante grande. You want me to shut up? Sure-sure, no hay pedo, I shut up. But you know where the bullshit was coming from in that briefing, and it wasn’t from Juanita Rivera.”