A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 02

A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 02

But no one spoke up. Those who weren’t familiar with such military minutiae — which was probably the majority of them — were apparently willing to accept Travis’s logic at face value. Dapplelake, who did know how it worked, would certainly not do anything to undercut Travis’s testimony that way.

“So what you’re saying,” Breakwater said after a moment, “is that Commodore Heissman’s entire focus was on the upcoming battle. And that the life of the Crown Prince was never even a factor in his strategy.”

“The lives of all his officers and crew were a factor, My Lord,” Travis said. “But more important even than that was the Star Kingdom and her citizens. Offering our lives in their protection was the oath we all took when we accepted the RMN uniform.” He focused on Burgundy. “All of us. Including the Crown Prince.”

He hadn’t expected a round of applause for his little speech. But he wasn’t prepared for Breakwater’s thinly veiled sarcasm, either. “Yes, I’m sure Prince Richard would invoke such sentiments, too, were he here,” the Chancellor said. “Which, of course, he’s not. It seems to me that Commodore Heissman was also rather caught off-guard by the appearance of the — what were they called? Oh, yes: you tagged them early on as Bogey Two. The two enemy destroyers that the MPARS corvettes Aries and Taurus took care of for you.”

Travis clenched his teeth. That was not how it had gone down. Not exactly, anyway. “Those ships came in coasting with their wedges down, My Lord,” he said stiffly. “Effective sensor range under those conditions is extremely short.”

“Yet Commodore Heissman knew they were out there,” Breakwater said. “Shouldn’t he have been more alert?”

“We already had our hands full with the ships of the main attack force.”

“You can’t focus your attention on two directions at once?”

“It’s not a matter of focus, but of firepower,” Travis said. “We knew where the main force was, and turning toward a potential flanking force would simply have left us open to the main force’s attack.” He hesitated. “To be perfectly honest, My Lord, Commodore Heissman probably didn’t expect any of us to survive the engagement. His goal at that point was to do as much damage to the enemy, and get as much data back to Aegis, as possible.”

Breakwater gave a snort. “So RMN officers now go into battle expecting to get their entire crews killed?”

“Sometimes Navy personnel have to do just that,” Travis said, feeling anger rising inside him. “Especially when our ships are undermanned, underequipped, and — by some — underappreciated.”

There was a small stir around the table. Travis winced, realizing too late that he’d probably gone too far. “My apologies, My Lords and Ladies; Your Graces,” he said. “I didn’t mean to sound unappreciative.”

“Yet you did,” Breakwater pointed out stiffly. “Perhaps we should allow you a few moments to collect yourself before we continue.” He turned to Burgundy and inclined his head. “With your permission, of course, Your Grace.”

“I think we could postpone the rest of Lieutenant Long’s testimony until tomorrow morning,” Burgundy said, peering at his tablet. “We’re approaching the noon recess anyway.” He looked at Travis. “Tomorrow at oh-nine-hundred, Lieutenant. You’re dismissed.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Travis said. Silently berating himself for once again sticking his foot in it, he picked up his tablet and pushed back his chair.

“Oh, I’m sorry — one last question,” Breakwater spoke up suddenly. “The technique you used to destroy that enemy battlecruiser. Very clever, that. Whose idea was it, exactly?”

Travis felt his stomach tense. Breakwater knew perfectly well whose idea that had been. “It was mine, My Lord.”

“Not Commodore Heissman’s?” Breakwater asked. “Or Commander Belokas’, or Tactical Officer Woodburn’s? Yours?”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“I see.” Breakwater inclined his head. “Thank you, Lieutenant. You may go now.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

Ninety seconds later, Travis was walking down the wide corridor toward the exit nearest the visitor parking lot. Wondering what the hell that last bit had been all about.

Wondering perhaps a little too strenuously. Vaguely, he became aware that someone was calling his name —

“So are you ignoring the whole world? Or is it just me?”

Travis twitched with surprise, guilt, and embarrassment. “No, of course not,” he said hastily. “I mean — ”

“Apology accepted, Travis,” Lieutenant Commander Lisa Donnelly said, the warm impishness of her smile erasing any lingering suggestion that she was actually mad at him. “I’m surprised you have any brainpower left at all after that.” She nodded back behind them. “Let me guess: Chancellor Breakwater was playing his usual games?”

“Yes — Ma’am,” Travis belatedly remembered to add. Lisa had been his best and closest friend for four years now, probably the only person he’d ever truly been able to relax with. As near as he could tell, she was just as comfortable in his presence as he was in hers.

But she also outranked him, and here in public the correct forms of military etiquette had to be strictly adhered to. “And I’m pretty sure he won.”

“Only pretty sure?”

“Yes. Mostly because I have no idea what the game was.”

“Ah.” Lisa glanced around and gestured to a set of empty chairs grouped around a small table in a conversation alcove at one side of their corridor. “Let’s sit down and you can tell me all about it. If you’ve got time.”

“Yes, Ma’am, absolutely,” Travis said, already feeling the tension melting away. He hadn’t had a chance to see Lisa for several weeks before the battle, and the thought of spending even just an hour with her was definitely something to look forward to. “They don’t want me again until tomorrow.”

“Good.” She glanced conspiratorially to both sides as they headed toward the alcove. “And you know, if we keep our voices down, you won’t even have to call me Ma’am.”

Travis felt his face warming. Lisa didn’t call him on his strict adherence to rules very often, but when she did she was painfully efficient at making her point. “Yes, Ma — I mean, yes.”

“So tomorrow, you say,” Lisa said thoughtfully. “Sounds like Breakwater got what he was looking for. Okay, let’s see if we can figure this out. Was there any point where he seemed happier than he was the rest of the time?”

“Well, he threw in a last-second question as I was being dismissed,” Travis said as they both sat down. “And he went out of his way earlier to remind everyone how his two MPARS ships took out one of Tamerlane’s destroyers.”

“He’s not going to let anyone forget that,” Lisa agreed. “Especially since Cazenestro had ordered the MPARS ships to stand down. If Hardasty and Kostava hadn’t ignored him and moved in anyway, things would have gone a lot worse.” Her eyes shifted over Travis’s shoulder. “Speaking of which.” She lifted a hand and raised her voice. “Townsend? Over here!”

Travis felt a sudden jolt of tension as he twisted around in his chair to look. Sure enough, the big Sphinxian lumbering toward them was Petty Officer Charles Townsend. Chomps Townsend, to his friends.

A long time ago, Travis had been one of those friends. Not anymore.

But Chomps was smart enough not to show animosity toward a senior officer in public. He smiled at Lisa as he came up, gave the exact same smile to Travis, then came to a smart halt and executed an equally smart salute. “Commander Donnelly; Lieutenant Long,” he greeted them. “What heinous crime have you committed, may I ask, to have been hauled into this den of political machination and chaos?”

“And what would you know about Parliament?” Lisa asked dryly.

“Oh, I’ve sailed these waters myself of late, Ma’am,” Chomps said. “Two days ago, in fact. Possibly later today, too, if they really want to put themselves through a repeat performance.” He glanced at the wall chrono. “Though probably not until after lunch.”

“At least you get to go in on a full stomach,” Lisa said. “I’m guessing we’re all here for the same reason.”

“Which is?”

“Lieutenant Long and I were just trying to figure that out,” Lisa said. “Care to join us?”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Chomps said. “If I may suggest: as I say, it’s lunchtime. Would the two of you care to join me for a small repast? My treat, of course.”

“Hmm,” Lisa said, her face wrinkled with feigned uncertainty. “I don’t know. Enlisted and MPARS. What do you think, Travis? Can we legally accept such an invitation?”

“If it helps,” Chomps offered, “we could consider it my apology for calling you by your first name in front of your fellow officers.”

Travis sat up a little straighter. “What?” he asked carefully.

“It’s okay,” Lisa soothed him, her eyes twinkling with amusement. “It was on Casca, and the Cascans don’t care so much about proper etiquette.”

“I was also trying to save my skin, Sir,” Chomps added to Travis. “Which for a while looked like they also didn’t care much about.”

“But as you see, we made it through,” Lisa said, standing up. “Very well, Townsend, we accept. To the cafeteria?”

“Or to a little place just around the corner, Ma’am.” Chomps raised his eyebrows at Travis. “It’s Italian, Sir. I seem to remember that you like Italian.”

“Yes,” Travis confirmed warily, searching the man’s face for some hint of the resentment or hatred he was surely still feeling for Travis and the damage to his career that had been a result of Travis’s damning report about Chomps’s computer hacking.

But if there were any such emotions there, Travis could see no evidence of them. Chomps seemed genuinely cheerful and relaxed, friendly to both him and Lisa, and not at all ashamed of the MPARS uniform he was wearing.

But then, Travis had never been good at reading people. For all he knew, Chomps could be planning right now exactly how and where he was going to slip the knife between Travis’s ribs.

“Travis?”

He looked at Lisa. She was eyeing him, a questioning expression on her face. As if the lunch thing was his decision and not hers.

Squaring his shoulders, Travis looked back at Chomps. If the other was planning some revenge, they might as well get it over with. “Sounds good,” he said. “Please; lead the way.”

 

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