Mission Of Honor – Snippet 21

“‘Rusty’,” Faraday rolled the word across his tongue, then snorted harshly. “If we use the term in the sense that a hatch sealed shut by atmospheric oxidation is ‘rusty,’ I suppose it’s appropriate.” The smile he bestowed upon Howell should have lowered the temperature in his office by at least three degrees, but then he grimaced. “Still, I take your point.”

He gave himself a shake, then turned his attention back to Yaeger and Trammell.

“Don’t think for a moment that I’m any happier about this than I was ten seconds ago. Still, Marcus does have a point. I’m not a great believer in the theory that extenuating circumstances excuse an officer’s failures where his duty is concerned, but I suppose it’s a bit early to start keelhauling people, too. So perhaps we should simply begin all over again from a mutual point of agreement that everyone’s performance in the simulation was . . . suboptimal.”

In fact, Yaeger knew, it had been far, far worse than “suboptimal.” If she were going to be honest about it — which she really would have preferred avoiding if at all possible — his initial, delightfully apt choice of noun had much to recommend it as a factual summation.

As Howell had just pointed out, emergency evacuation exercises had not been a priority of Rear Admiral Colombo, Faraday’s immediate predecessor. For that matter, they hadn’t been a high priority for the station commander before that, either. On the other hand, that CO had been a Janacek appointee, and nothing had been very high on his priority list. By contrast, Colombo possessed enormous energy and drive, which helped explain why Admiral Hemphill had just recalled him to the capital planet as her second-in-command at BuWeaps. But, Yaeger admitted, Colombo had been a tech weenie, like her. She didn’t think he’d ever held starship command, and he’d been involved in the R&D side for over thirty T-years. He’d been conscientious about the administrative details of his assignment, but his real interest had been down in the labs or over in the fabrication units where prototype pieces of hardware were produced.

“Sir,” she said now, “I’m serious about apologizing for my people’s performance. Yes, Captain Howell has a point — it’s not something we’ve exercised at. But the truth is, Sir, that an awful lot of my people suffer from what I can only call tunnel vision. They’re really intensely focused on their projects. Sometimes, to be honest, I’m not sure they’re even aware the rest of the universe is out there at all.” She shook her head. “I know at least one of my division heads — I’d prefer not to say which — heard the evacuation alarm and just turned it off so it wouldn’t disturb his train of thought while he and two of his lead researchers were discussing the current problem. I’ve already, ah, counseled him on that decision, but I’m afraid it was fairly typical. Which is my fault, not theirs.”

“It’s your fault, Admiral, in the sense that you’re ultimately responsible for the actions of all personnel under your command. That doesn’t excuse their actions — or inaction. However, judging by the overall level of performance, I’d have to relieve three-quarters of the officers aboard this station if I were going to hammer everyone who’d screwed up. So we’re not going to do that.”

Faraday paused, letting the silence stretch out, until Trammell took pity on his colleague and broke it.

“We’re not, Sir?” he asked.

“No, Admiral,” Faraday said. “Instead, we’re going to fix the problem. I’m afraid it’s probably symptomatic of other problems we’re going to find, and — to be fair, Admiral Yeager — I can actually understand why a lot of the R&D people think the rest of us are playing silly games that only get in the way of the people — them — doing serious work. From a lot of perspectives, they’ve got a point, really, when you come right down to it.”

Yaeger was actually a bit surprised to hear Faraday admit that. Claudio Faraday was about as far removed from Rear Admiral Thomas Colombo as it was possible for a human being to be. He had effectively zero background on the research side. In fact, he was what Admiral Hemphill had taken to calling a “shooter,” not a researcher, and Yaeger felt positive he would rather have been commanding a battle squadron than babysitting the Navy’s “brain trust.”

But that, she was beginning to suspect, might actually be the very reason he’d been chosen for his new assignment. It was more than possible Colombo had been recalled to BuWeaps not simply because his talents were needed there, but because certain recent events had convinced someone at the Admiralty house that HMSS Weyland needed the talents of someone like Claudio Faraday equally badly.

“I fully realize I’ve been aboard for less than one T-week,” Faraday continued. “And I realize my credentials on the R&D side are substantially weaker even than Admiral Trammell’s. But there’s a reason we have an emergency evacuation plan. In fact, there’s an even better reason for us to have one than for Hephaestus or Vulcan to have one. The same reason, in a lot of ways, that we back all of our data up down on the planetary surface every twelve hours. There is one tiny difference between our data backups and the evac plan, however.” He smiled again, a bit less thinly than before. “It would be just a bit more difficult to reconstitute the researchers than their research if both of them got blown to bits.”

The silence was much more intense this time. Four months ago, Yaeger might have been inclined to dismiss Faraday’s concerns. But that had been before the Battle of Manticore.

“We all know the new system-defense pods have been deployed to protect Weyland,” the vice admiral went on after a moment. “For that matter, we all know the Peeps got hammered so hard it’s not really likely they’re going to be poking their noses back into Manticoran space anytime soon. But nobody thought it was very likely they’d do it in the first place, either. So however much it may inconvenience our personnel, I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist we get this little procedural bump smoothed out. I’d appreciate it if you’d make your people aware that I’m not exactly satisfied with their performance in this little simulation. I assure you, I’ll be making that point to them myself, as well.”

He smiled again. Neither Yaeger nor Trammell would ever have mistaken the expression for a sign of pleasure.

“What you are not going to tell them, however, is that I have something just a little more drastic in mind for them. Simulations are all well and good, and I’m perfectly prepared to use them as training tools. After all, that’s what they’re intended for. But as I’m sure you’re both aware, it’s always been the Navy’s policy to conduct live-fire exercises, as well as simulations. Which is what we’re going to do, too.”

Yaeger managed to keep her dismay from showing, although she was fairly certain Faraday knew exactly what she was feeling. Still, she couldn’t help a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach as she thought about the gaping holes the chaos of an actual physical evacuation of the station was going to tear in her R&D schedules.

“I fully realize,” Faraday continued as if he’d been a Sphinxian treecat reading her mind, “that an actual evacuation will have significant repercussions on the station’s operations. Because I am, this isn’t something I’m approaching lightly. It’s not something I want to do — it’s only something we have to do. And because we not only need to test our actual performance but convince some of your ‘focused’ people this is something to take seriously, not just something designed to interrupt their work schedules, we’re not going to tell them it’s coming. We’ll go ahead and run the additional simulations. I’m sure they’ll expect nothing less out of their new, pissed-off, pain-in-the-ass CO, and they’ll bitch and moan about it with all the creativity of really smart people. I don’t care about that, as long as they keep it to themselves and don’t force me to take note of it. But, hopefully, when we hit them with the actual emergency order — when it’s not a simple simulation — they’ll at least have improved enough for us to get everyone off the station without someone getting killed because he forgot to secure his damned helmet.”