Mission Of Honor – Snippet 22

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Captain Ansten FitzGerald tipped back in his chair as Commander Amal Nagchaudhuri stepped into the briefing room with an electronic tablet tucked under his arm.

“Have a seat,” the captain invited, pointing at a chair across the table from his own, and Nagchaudhuri settled into it with a grateful sigh. FitzGerald smiled and shook his own head.

“Are you anywhere near a point where you can actually sit down for a couple of hours with a beer?” he asked, and Nagchaudhuri chuckled sourly.

It had never occurred to the tall, almost albino-pale commander that he might find himself the executive officer of one of the Royal Manticoran Navy’s most powerful heavy cruisers. He was a communications specialist, and posts like that usually went to officers who’d come up through the tactical track, although that tradition had been rather eroded over the past couple of decades by the Navy’s insatiable appetite for experienced personnel. On the other hand, very few XOs had inherited their positions under circumstances quite like his, which had quite a bit to do with his current weariness.

“By my calculations, it won’t be more than another T-year before I can take a break long enough for that, Sir,” he replied. “Ginger was one hell of an engineer, but we’re still finding things that managed to get broken somehow.” He shrugged. “Most of what we’re finding now is little crap, of course. None of it’s remotely vital. I imagine that’s one reason Ginger hadn’t already found it and dealt with it before they transferred her out. But I’m still annotating her survey for the yard dogs. And the fact that BuPers is pilfering so enthusiastically isn’t helping one damned bit.”

FitzGerald nodded in understanding and sympathy. He’d held Nagchaudhuri’s position until Hexapuma’s return from the Talbott Quadrant. He was intimately familiar with the problems the commander was experiencing and discovering, and the XO’s frustration came as no surprise — not least because they’d all anticipated getting the ship into the yard dogs’ hands so quickly.

FitzGerald’s eyes darkened at that thought. Of course they’d expected that! After all, none of them were psychic, so none of them had realized the Battle of Manticore was going to come roaring out of nowhere only five days after their return. Hexapuma’s damages had kept her on the sidelines, a helpless observer, and as incredibly frustrating as that had been at the time, it was probably also the only reason Fitzgerald, Nagchaudhuri, and the cruiser’s entire complement were still alive. That cataclysmic encounter had wreaked havoc on a scale no one had ever truly envisioned. It had also twisted the Navy’s neat, methodical schedules into pretzels . . . and the horrendous personnel losses had quite a bit to do with how Nagchaudhuri had ended up confirmed as Hexapuma’s executive officer, too.

“Well,” he said, shaking off the somberness memories of the battle always produced, “I’ve got some good news for once. Rear Admiral Truman says she’s finally got a space for us in R&R.”

“She does?” Nagchaudhuri straightened, expression brightening. Rear Admiral Margaret Truman, a first cousin of the rather more famous Admiral Alice Truman, was the commanding officer of Her Majesty’s Space Station Hephaestus, and HMSS Hephaestus happened to be home to the Repair and Refit command to which Hexapuma’s repair had been assigned.

“She does indeed. Captain Fonzarelli will have docking instructions for us by tomorrow morning, and the tugs will be ready for us at oh-nine-hundred.”

“That’s going to piss Aikawa off,” Nagchaudhuri observed with a grin, and FitzGerald laughed.

“I imagine he’ll get over it eventually. Besides, he was due for a little leave.”

Ensign Aikawa Kagiyama had been one of Hexapuma’s midshipmen on her previous deployment. In fact, he was the only one still aboard her. Or, rather, assigned to her, since he wasn’t onboard at the moment.

“I guess we can always ask Hephaestus to delay our repairs a little longer. Long enough for him to get back from Weyland for the big moment, I mean,” Nagchaudhuri suggested.

“The hell we can!” Fitzgerald snorted. “Not that I don’t appreciate the way he looked after me after Monica, or anything. I’m sure he’ll be disappointed, but if we delay this any longer just so he can be here for it, his loyal crewmates would probably stuff him out an open air lock!”

“Yeah, but he’s fairly popular. They might let them have a helmet, first,” Nagchaudhuri replied with an even broader grin.

“And they might not, too.” Fitzgerald shook his head. “No, we’ll just let this be his little surprise when he gets back.”

“I hope he’s enjoying himself,” Nagchaudhuri said more seriously. “He’s a good kid. He works hard, and he really came through at Monica.”

“They were all good kids,” FitzGerald agreed. “And I’ll admit, I worry about him a little. It’s not natural for the XO to have to order an ensign to take leave. Especially not someone with his record from the Island!”

“He has been well behaved since we got back from Monica,” Nagchaudhuri acknowledged. “You don’t think he’s sick, do you?”

“No, I think it’s just losing all his accomplices.” Fitzgerald shrugged. “With Helen off as the Skipper’s new flag lieutenant, and with Paulo assigned to Weyland with Ginger, he’s sort of at loose ends when it comes to getting into trouble. For which we can all be grateful.”

“That depends. Are we going to get a fresh complement of snotties for him to provide with a suitably horrible example?”

“I doubt it.” Fitzgerald shrugged again. “Given the fact that we’re going to be sitting in a repair dock for the next several months, I imagine they’ll be looking for something a bit more active for snotty cruises. Besides, even if we get a fresh batch, he’s an ensign now. I think he’d actually feel constrained to set them a good example.”

“Somehow I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the concept of Aikawa being a good example for anyone — intentionally, I mean. At least without having Helen around to threaten him if he doesn’t!”

“Oh, come now!” Fitzgerald waved a chiding finger at the XO. “You know perfectly well that Helen never threatened him. Well, not too often, anyway.”

“Only because she didn’t have to make it explicit,” Nagchaudhuri countered. “One raised eyebrow, and he knew what was coming.”