A Call To Arms – Snippet 25
They weren’t the words Captain Fairburn wanted to hear, Osterman knew. For that matter, they weren’t the words she wanted to say.
But she had no choice but to say them.
“No, Sir,” she said, feeling the pain in her throat. “In all good conscience, I can’t place the blame on Ensign Locatelli.”
“You can’t?” Fairburn demanded. “Excuse me, Senior Chief, but didn’t you just testify that he ordered his crew to find replacement parts for his tracking systems in any way they could?”
“Yes, Sir,” Osterman said. “But unless Ensign Locatelli specifically said to take the components from other systems — and I have no evidence that he used any such language — then he’s personally not liable for the, uh, overenthusiasm of his crew.”
“Isn’t he responsible for knowing what his crew is doing?” Commander Todd put in.
“Yes, Sir,” Osterman said. “But only within reason. In this case, with Salamander having gone to Readiness Two, the bulk of everyone’s attention was on bringing systems to full operational status, not on wondering where replacement parts had come from.”
“Then at the very least a charge of negligence should be put on his record,” Fairburn pressed.
Osterman felt a stirring of annoyance. That wasn’t in any way what she’d just said. Was he even listening to her?
Probably not. Fairburn had spent an expensive missile for nothing, and he was clearly desperate to share the blame for that fiasco with someone. And if that someone was well-connected, so much the better.
Osterman could sympathize. She could also agree that Locatelli was a pain in the butt.
But there were lines she wasn’t ready to cross. This was one of them.
“Ensign Locatelli was occupied with the preparation of his equipment for combat, Sir,” she said. “As, I daresay, was everyone aboard Salamander.” She hesitated; but this, too, had to be said. “Furthermore, the action of Spacer Carpenter in swapping out the hex is not what caused the telemetry system to fail. That was the fault of whoever subsequently swapped out the telemetry hex for the unreliable one Spacer Carpenter had put into the temperature sensor.”
Fairburn frowned. “There was another component switch made?”
As if such switches weren’t the norm aboard his ship. “Yes, Sir, as near as I can tell,” Osterman said. “I did a check on the serial numbers, and while some of that data is…foggy…it supports my conclusion.”
“Then it was whoever did that swap who’s responsible,” Fairburn said.
“Except that he or she would have no way of knowing the hex in the temp sensor was used,” Todd murmured reluctantly. “As far as they would have known, it was the original temperature sensor component.”
Fairburn opened his mouth, probably preparing to point out that the spacer should have done a complete system check once the new hex was in place.
Closed it again, the words remaining unspoken. Of course there hadn’t been time for anything but the most cursory check before Salamander went to Readiness One and launched the missile.
There was plenty of liability here, Osterman knew. More than enough to go around. But it was so evenly shared among so many people that there was no way Fairburn would ever be able to gather enough to tar any one person.
She could understand his desire to find a scapegoat. But it wasn’t going to happen.
More than that, Fairburn was Salamander’s captain. That was the bottom line. He was her captain, and the ultimate responsibility for what happened aboard her rested with him.
Fairburn took a deep breath. “I see,” he said. And with that, Osterman knew, the witch-hunt was over. “Commander, close the record.”
Todd keyed off the recorder, a frown creasing his forehead. Apparently, this wasn’t part of the usual interrogation procedure. “Record closed, Captain.”
Fairburn’s eyes locked onto Osterman’s. “This stays between the three of us, Senior Chief,” he said. “I will be ending this investigation, and will reluctantly be leaving the records of those involved intact. But I’m not putting up with him and his posturing anymore. I’ve done my time, and I want him off my ship.”
Osterman glanced at Todd, saw her surprise mirrored there. Clearly, this was news to him, too. “Ensign Locatelli, Sir?” she asked.
“Who else?” Fairburn countered. “I’ve spoken with Admiral Locatelli, and Captain Castillo’s agreed to take him. He can be Phoenix’s problem for a while.”
“Yes, Sir,” Osterman said, breathing a little easier.
“There’s just one catch,” Fairburn continued sourly. “Admiral Locatelli insists that if his nephew goes, you go with him.”
Osterman stared at him. “Excuse me, Sir?” she asked carefully.
“You and Ensign Locatelli are being transferred to Phoenix, Senior Chief,” Fairburn said. “Effective immediately upon our return to Manticore.”
“For how long, Sir?” Osterman asked. “I mean –”
“I know what you mean, Senior Chief,” Fairburn said. “And the answer is, God only knows. Until Ensign Locatelli is transferred again, I suppose. Or until he grows up. Your guess is as good as mine.”
“I see, Sir,” Osterman said, her voice going automatically into Petty Officer Neutral mode. Until Locatelli the Younger grew up.
“That’s all, Senior Chief,” Fairburn said. “Dismissed.” He hesitated as Osterman stood up. “And,” he added, “may God have mercy on your soul.”
Osterman suppressed a sigh. “Yes, Sir,” she said. “Thank you, Sir.”
* * *
Carefully, Breakwater set his tablet on the table. “Extraordinary,” he said. “I trust I don’t have to tell anyone at this table how much that missile cost the Star Kingdom?”
It was, Winterfall decided, about as rhetorical a question as it was possible to ask. Across from him and Breakwater were Prime Minister Burgundy, Defense Minister Dapplelake, and Admiral Locatelli. At the head of the table was King Edward, himself a former captain in the Royal Manticoran Navy. All four of them would know precisely how much a missile cost.
Not just in Manticoran dollars, but also in Solarian credits, Havenite francs, and number of years’ worth of a captain’s salary. They knew how much the missile had cost, all right.
“We’re quite familiar with the numbers, My Lord,” Dapplelake said evenly. “If you don’t mind, let’s move on to the extra pound of flesh you’re hoping to extract.”
“Please, My Lord,” Breakwater said, in that reproachful tone that managed to be injured and condescending at the same time. “This isn’t about penalties or punishment. On the contrary: given Captain Fairburn’s incident report, I’m ready to concede that you’ve been right about pirate activity in the region.”
“Really,” Locatelli said. “I haven’t heard any mention of that in your speeches.”
“Nor has there been any such in Parliamentary or committee meetings,” Burgundy murmured.
“There’s a time for public pronouncements, My Lords, and a time for private discussion,” Breakwater replied smoothly. “This is one of the latter.” He turned to King Edward. “Your Majesty, I submit that Captain Fairburn’s encounter proves beyond a doubt that there are indeed outside dangers that need to be addressed. Accordingly, I would like to again submit my request that the five remaining corvettes be transferred to MPARS.”
“And?” the King prompted.
“And that they retain their full armament,” Breakwater said. “Future pirate activity can only be dealt with if there is a strong, armed presence throughout the Star Kingdom.”
“Welcome to our side of the argument, My Lord,” Dapplelake said dryly. “Unfortunately, you seem to have forgotten that the problem of crewing those armed ships still remains.”
“A problem which would have been eliminated long ago if more slots had been opened up for MPARS personnel at the Academy and Casey-Rosewood,” Breakwater countered.
“You have as many slots as we can afford to give you, My Lord,” Dapplelake said. “But there may be another way.”
Breakwater tilted his head to the side. “I’m listening.”
“MPARS already has Aries and Taurus,” Dapplelake said. “Since Baron Winterfall’s rescue modules haven’t proved all that useful — ” he inclined his head at Winterfall, as if apologizing for that assessment ” — I suggest we go ahead and reinstall the box launchers. The Navy will supply you with petty officers and gunnery crews to handle them, and we’ll try to squeeze a few more slots in those rating tracks for your people.”