Chain of Command – Snippet 10
Sam’s mind wandered as it always did during ceremonies. He tried to look serious and attentive, mindful of how important ceremonies were to other people and unwilling to hurt or offend them. The truth was he never really understood–whether it was a birthday, wedding, graduation, or funeral–why people believed those particular five or ten or thirty minutes were more meaningful than the five or ten or thirty minutes which came before or after. They always felt the same to him and that made him feel slightly awkward, as if he were missing something important.
Not that all moments in his life were the same. Some took his breath away, some would stay with him forever. His first sight of the seven gray body bags was one of those moments. But the important moments almost always came upon him by surprise, and never as the result of planning, never because time had been set aside for them in his schedule.
As for this ceremony, he felt as if everything important which could happen to Jules and the others already had.
“Honor guard, hand salute,” Captain Huhn ordered.
“Mariner Striker Louise DeMarco, Chief Petty Officer George Nguyen, Machinist Mate Second Class Vincent Pulaski, Quartermaster Second Class Ernest Schwartz, Sensor Technician Third Class DeRon Velazquez, Ensign Robert Waring, Lieutenant Junior Grade Julia Washington.
“We therefore commit their remains to space, to rejoin the universe from which we all came, and to which we all surely will return.”
There was a pause of several seconds, presumably as the outer door of the airlock was opened and the bodies released, and then Captain Huhn spoke again.
“All hands, resume duty.”
“Okay,” Sam quietly told his work party, and they all returned to the job of repairing their boat, but without the banter which had filled the transit tube before.
Vice-Captain Takaar Nuvaash, Speaker for the Enemy, sat in the fleet tactical center of KBk Five One Seven and studied the sensor readings from the thirteen Human ships. All communications between them were by tight beam and so interception of actual messages was out of the question, but he could at least see evidence of the volume of signal traffic by their changing emission states. What they said was unknowable, but it was clear they were all saying something, which meant none of the vessels had been disabled. He was not sure how he felt about that.
Why were they at war? What was the point? What was its strategic purpose? What did his government hope to gain by it? Admiral e-Lapeela clearly supported the attack. He must know the objective, the stakes, the plan for prosecuting the war after the opening salvos were fired. What else did he know?
Nuvaash glanced at the admiral who sat in the console to his right. Three months earlier, when the admiral had assumed command of the First Striking Fleet, Nuvaash had made several unobtrusive attempts to draw a response from him which would indicate membership in one of the shadow brotherhoods, the secret societies which cut across boundaries of class and nationality and which riddled Varoki society. Nuvaash knew the secret challenges of nearly a dozen such organizations, and he knew how to insert them casually into conversation, in ways that might provoke a reaction. He always arranged it so he could ignore a positive response and carry on as if the challenge was a coincidence, the significance of its answering countersign unrecognized. In e-Lapeela’s case, however, that was an unnecessary precaution. The admiral had responded to none of the challenges, and so Nuvaash had no more understanding of his commander’s true loyalties now than he had before he had heard his name.
“Admiral, it will be easier for me to assess whether the attack has produced the desired effect if I knew what effect was desired.”
The admiral chuckled and tilted his head to the side, the Varoki equivalent of a shrug.
“Nominally, we aim to end the criminal colonization of K’tok by Humans. Since the re-integration referendum, all of K’tok is legally uBakai soil.”
Nominally, e-Lapeela had said, so there was a larger objective in sight than simply the planet K’tok.
“The bio-compatibility issue complicates–” Nuvaash began but e-Lapeela cut him off with a gesture.
“It does not complicate the legality of the situation, Speaker. That much is simple. K’tok was discovered by Varoki survey vessels one hundred thirty-four years ago, colonized by Varoki settlers sent by the uZmataanki and our own uBakai governments a decade later, became a sovereign and independent member state of the Cottohazz two years ago, and voluntarily became a confederated territory of the Commonwealth of Bakaa eleven months past. Legally, Humans have no claim on any part of the world.”
“Legally,” Nuvaash said, and e-Lapeela nodded.
“You are right. Legality matters little to Humans. Every world in the Cottohazz where there are Humans, they are involved in crime. Some places they have even taken over the other criminals and organized them. Can you imagine? But you have experience with them, so you do not need to imagine. That is why I retained you in your post as Speaker when I took command here. I could have brought my own specialist, but you know Humans. You understand them.
“So speak for the enemy. How will they respond to our First Action initiative?”
“Rage,” Nuvaash answered immediately. “Like us, Humans have a cultural aversion to wars begun by treachery, particularly the main Human nations involved in the colonization effort of K’tok. An unprovoked surprise attack such as this will produce righteous rage in these governments and their people. This will complicate our task.”
“How? Humans are savages and they will fight savagely. Will they be docile if we begin the war politely?”
“Of course not, Admiral. But if they feel wronged, they will fight longer. Their governments will be less likely to come to terms. We will pay a higher price in warriors and ships. In both categories these four Human nations combined outnumber the uBakai Star Navy. But most importantly, in their rage they will strive to find a way to revisit on us not merely the physical damage of the attack, but also its psychological toll. They will attempt to strike back harder than they were struck.”
Admiral e-Lapeela nodded and smiled.
“They will not simply react to our attack,” he said softly. “They will over-react. I believe you are correct, Nuvaash. I certainly hope so. All of our plans rest on that.
“Humans have been a problem since they were admitted to the Cottohazz seventy years ago. At long last, we are going to solve that problem.”
Nuvaash shuddered, and he could not tell if fear or excitement made up the greater part of the feeling.