Chain of Command – Snippet 09
2 December 2133 (ten minutes later) (nineteen days from K’tok orbit)
“Thanks for staying after,” Huhn said, pulling his blanket more tightly around his shoulders and avoiding eye contact with Sam. “I know we haven’t exactly been on the same page a whole lot, but we’re deep in the shit now, and we need to work together. You know what I mean?”
“Work together. Yes, sir,” Sam said, trying to concentrate on Huhn’s words instead of the image of gray body bags.
Huhn frowned at him and then looked away.
With the others gone, Sam now saw a part of the smart wall near Huhn’s cabin workstation which was live, showing a rotation of family pictures. Most of them looked posed. They featured three people: Huhn, usually in uniform and with a variety of different hair lengths and colors; a woman ranging from her mid-twenties to late-thirties in different pictures, but always with the same tentative smile; and a boy ranging from six or seven up to late teens. The younger version of the boy looked bored, the older one defiant.
“You’ve got a good tactical head on you, Bitka,” Huhn said. Sam looked up from the pictures with a start, but Huhn’s attention was on the blank gray expanse of the opposite wall. “You’ve shown that much. That was quick thinking during the attack, recommending we realign the boat. I had to think about it a little before agreeing, but you were right.” Huhn glanced at Sam again, perhaps gauging his reaction to this re-writing of history.
“Thank you, sir.”
Huhn fidgeted with his blanket for a moment, as if unsure how to proceed.
“Okay. Like they say, water under the bridge, right? Okay. So …XO, huh? Quite a feather in your cap. Something to brag about to the folks back home, that’s for damn sure. It’s a big job, and a thankless one–take that from me. No one appreciates the XO, but you’ll learn that as you go. You’ll have to keep the tactical department too for now. Short-handed.”
“Yes, sir. Not a problem.”
“I’ll help you out with this job, show you the ropes. But you need to help me out too. I’m new to being captain, you know.”
Something was happening here but Sam was too numb to understand quite what it was or what to do in response. His brain–the analytical part anyway–was still sharp, but the emotional part remained punch-drunk, useless. He knew he should say something.
“Okay. Well …we’ll take this up again later. Now you better get started on drafting the new watch list and general quarters assignments. Oh, and since you’re still Tac Boss, you’re also the boat’s intel officer. We need to let the crew know what’s going on. You know, big picture stuff, keep it simple, but put together a summary and broadcast it over the all-crew channel. So …well, dismissed.”
Sam glided out and closed the hatch, then spent a moment holding a stanchion on the bulkhead, thinking through the conversation. Once Huhn got over his surprise having Sam as his XO he had at least been polite, had sounded as if he wanted to get along, work together. Sam wasn’t sure the two of them could manage that, but then he shrugged. What choice did they have?
First things first.
“All hands, this is Lieutenant Bitka the executive officer speaking. Captain Huhn directed me to tell you about our current situation and our mission. As you all probably know, as of 0937 Zulu today, the United States of North America, along with our allies–the West European Union, the Republic of India, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria–have been at war with the Varoki Commonwealth of Bakaa. The biggest thing we know is they shot at us first.
“Something to remember is we’re not fighting every single Varoki out there. Like us, the Varoki don’t have one central government. They’ve got almost thirty sovereign nations, and we’re only at war with one of them: the Commonwealth of Bakaa. They’re called the uBakai in their language.
“You’ve probably heard USS Hornet was badly damaged by the sneak attack. The other destroyers of the squadron took damage and suffered casualties too. We don’t know the extent yet, but for the moment it appears that all twelve destroyers are operational. Our own damage is repairable and does not threaten our survival or that of the boat. Our losses were heavy, though–seven dead and seventeen injured. The good news is, all but four of our injured have already returned to duty or will shortly.
“We’re here in this system for one reason only–to protect Human colonists on the planet K’tok. Why is K’tok such a big deal? Because of all the ecosystems any of the Six Races have discovered in the last couple hundred years, K’tok’s is the only one that has proteins compatible with Humans. That means it’s the only place other than Earth where we can eat the fruit and vegetables and meat without it killing us. People can grow food in the ground, not just in hydroponic tanks.
“The Varoki settled a corner of the world before anyone knew it was compatible with us, but when they found out, they tried to cover it up. That all came out a couple years ago and there’s been a flow of Human settlers there ever since. The local Varoki–the uBakai–started getting rough and so our government sent us to keep everyone honest. Instead they pulled a sneak attack on us.
“There’s a big combined task force following us, ships from all four Human allied navies. They’re headed for K’tok, and so for now our mission is to provide the forward screen for that task force. That’s exactly what they built our destroyers for, and what we’ve trained for.
“In twenty minutes we’ll secure from general quarters and go to Readiness Condition Two. That will give half of you a chance to grab some chow and rest. They you’ll spell your shipmates.
“We’re in a shooting war. We didn’t want it, but we’ve got it, and there’s a lot of combat power backing us up. I was proud of the way everyone I saw performed during the attack, and I’m sure the captain feels the same way. Carry on.”
Two hours later Sam was supervising a repair party, welding permanent patches over the holes in the interior of the central transit tube where uBakai “buckshot” had punched through. The all-boat commlink alert sounded.
“All hands, bury the dead,” he heard Lieutenant Marina Filipenko, the officer of the deck, announce.
He waved his work party to a halt and they all anchored their feet to stanchions and came to attention. Captain Huhn’s voice came on next. He must have been aft in Engineering, where the large maintenance airlock would allow all seven of their dead to be buried together, as was customary. The captain read off their names and said something about each of them, although he sounded as if he read summaries from the service folders.