Notes: Another new perspective, because I'm apparently a glutton for punishment and complication. Enjoy seeing Miles from a different direction.
Title: Reformation: Chapter Eighteen
“I don’t understand this man’s love of in-person meetings,” Captain Rianna Kylal muttered to her fellow captain, Blake Obede, as they made their way from the Academy fleet flagship’s dock to General Caractacus’s ready room. “We’re barely three days out from Olympus and he wants to speak to us again? All together? What’s so important that it has to be said in person as opposed to over a private comm?”
“He’s old-fashioned, I suppose,” Blake replied easily. They’d come without their aides—not a requirement, the general’s personal secretary had stressed, but as said aides wouldn’t be allowed into the briefing, it didn’t make much sense for them to tag along. After all, they had their orders from the admiralty. Nothing Miles Caractacus could do would change those, at this point. “Or perhaps he’s just reinforcing his position as the head of our little armada.”
Rianna snorted. “Please. This is a milk run, we all know it. Why the admiralty bothered to pull in a marine general, of all people, instead of giving it to an active duty captain I have no idea. Maybe Garrett Helms made them.”
“You think Helms has that kind of pull in the senate?”
“There’s no telling what that snake is capable of. His own kid’s not on the roster here, did you know that?” Rianna shook her head. “Coddling him won’t do him any favors.”
“Or maybe he knows something we don’t.”
“Conspiracy theories, Blake?” She nudged him. “Don’t get buzzy on me. I need someone around who knows how to keep a level head.” They were coming up on the general’s ready room. His secretary, Shen Lin, was waiting at the door, immaculate in a space-black suit, her hands crossed in front of her.
“Thank you both for coming,” she said. “You’re the last to be accounted for, so if you would please enter and be seated?”
“Last in and first out,” Rianna whispered as they walked in. Blake just eyed her sidelong before taking his seat. Fifteen other captains were already there, and she flushed a little at the sudden attention. Whatever, they weren’t that late. At the head of the table was General Caractacus, and Rianna made a show of leaning forward and focusing on him. The sooner they’d sopped his ego, the sooner she could get back to her ship.
The general smiled. “Thanks for coming so promptly. Now that you’re all here, I’ll get right to the point.” Digital data sheets suddenly displayed on the tables in front of each of them. “These are your new crew rosters. I want you to inspect them, bring any potential issues you have with them to me by the end of the day, and be prepared to implement them by tomorrow.”
Captain Uris asked the question that was on everybody’s mind. “Why are we making changes to our crews? Our current rosters were designated by the admiralty themselves.”
“Indeed they were,” the general said mildly. “By the admiralty: not by the instructors at the Academy, not by Admiral Liang, not by anyone who would be in a place to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the cadets under your command. Several of you were given helmsmen who have less than a hundred hours of simulation time—only helmsmen with low preparedness, for all shifts—as opposed to here of you who were given senior cadets with over a thousand hours on the sim, and actual flight time in crafts ranging from shuttles to Destroyers.”
“Surely that was based on potential proximity to combat,” another captain protested. “A fifty-crew puddlejumper is far less likely to encounter armed resistance than the destroyers we’re putting to the front of the line.”
Rianna bristled slightly—she was captaining one of those smaller ships, and she didn’t appreciate it being referred to as a puddlejumper—but the general was quick with a response. “The original crew orientation is included in the data. Feel free to flip back and take a look, and I think you’ll find that there was very little combat strategy applied to the placement of crew. Four destroyers were given fewer than ten percent upper classmen, whereas our communications ship—which is certainly meant to be at the back, and I’m not suggesting otherwise—is entirely staffed with juniors and seniors. Cadets, in fact, that all have a direct connection to members of Parliament.”
A strange silence descended over the group. Blake eventually ventured to speak. “You’re saying that the admiralty cherry-picked which cadet would be placed on which ship, regardless of capacity.”
“That’s a bold claim to make, sir.”
The general waved toward the table. “It’s not bold if it’s true. The evidence is there. You can peruse it on your own and get back to me as to whether you agree or not, I don’t care. I don’t have to care, even though I do. But the fact of the matter is, this fleet was put under my command. No matter what we’re heading into, whether it’s a skirmish with pirates that’ll be over before we know it or something bigger, I am the final arbiter of who serves where now that we’re underway.”
“I don’t think the admiralty would appreciate your changes, sir.” Captain Uris again. She, Brianna recalled, was married to a cousin of President Alexander.
“I don’t feel the need to care about what they would appreciate,” he replied easily. A few of the other captains looked to be stifling smiles. “They’re on the ground, we’re in the air. Command may issue guidelines at this point, but any orders go through me first. Unless you feel that I’m asking you to do something that is immoral,” he added. “In which case, it’s your prerogative to file a report with the admiralty in accordance with the law. I imagine they’ll get around to reviewing it before we reach Pandora, but until that time, you’ll obey my orders. Do you find reshuffling your crews to be an immoral act, Captain Uris?”
Her hands were clenched, but she persisted. “I’m simply stating that the admiralty must have had their reasons for doing what they did, and for you to step in and rearrange something that is possibly beyond your comprehension for reasons of—”
“You can stop right there.” General Caractacus sat forward and fixed his pale eyes on Uris. Brianna felt the second-hand tension like it was her own, quickening her heartbeat and tightening her muscles. “First off, your insinuation that I’m ill-prepared for this command is a slap in the face of the very admiralty whose intentions you purport to know better than myself. I was pulled out of retirement, against my wishes, to take this post. I intend to do my duty to the best of my abilities regardless, and the safety of my people is of paramount importance to me. You don’t like it, take it up with my record of service.
“Secondly, don’t talk to me about reasoning before you’ve even so much as glanced at the data in front of you. If you’re here to shill for the admiralty, you’d have better luck doing your research first and attacking after instead of the other way around.” Captain Uris’s face was getting redder and redder, but the general pressed on.
“Thirdly, if we’re going to be asking questions about the whys of crew placement, I invite all of you to ask yourselves—in the quiet of your own ready rooms—why you were given the cadets you were, and whether or not their placement was logical. If you disagree with a move I’ve made, I want you to step forward with it. Feel free to challenge me, but the information I’m giving you here is about more than just your individual ships. I’ve shared the data for every ship’s personnel, so when you look through the rosters, I want you to weigh the benefit of each orientation—the original, and the new one I’m proposing. See if it doesn’t make more sense. And if it does make more sense? Well.” He sat back in his chair.
“You can stop thinking as soon as you agree with me, if that’s the way you prefer to work. Or you can consider the reasoning behind the admiralty’s original decision, and ask yourself what in the hell they were thinking when they divided our people up the way they did.”
“You’re asking us to commit an act of treason—”
“A thought is never treasonous, only an action is,” the general snapped. “If we were tried on the basis of our thoughts, no one would make it to adulthood. It’s not treason to question, but if you’re going to question me you’d better back your claims up with hard facts and not expect me to cower just because you’re tight with the admiralty. Otherwise, you do as I say, or I replace you with someone more discerning. Do you understand me?”
Nods and murmured, “Yes sirs,” went around the room. Even Uris nodded after a moment.
“Good. Then I expect to hear from you before the start of third shift tonight if you disagree with any of my changes. Otherwise, I want this done by second shift tomorrow.” He pushed back from the table and stood up. “Dismissed.”
Uris left in a huff, and most of the other captains left quickly, eager to get back to their ships and prepare. Rianna waited for Blake to join her, glancing back once at General Caractacus as he conferred with his secretary.
“Do you think he’s right?” she whispered as they walked. “About the…cherry-picking?”
Blake looked grim. “All I know is that my own ship is ninety percent full of freshmen and I didn’t even realize it until now. No wonder our exercises have been going so slow. My new XO didn’t tell me any of this, either.”
“You aren’t still working with Johnson?” They’d been a command team ever since Rianna had first me Blake, almost twenty years ago.
“No. He was reassigned.” Blake’s lips tightened. “To Captain Uris.”
“You think the general is on to something?”
“I think I’m going to obey my orders and get my ship’s crew straightened out. And I think I’m going to be a lot more careful about how I go about my business for the rest of this deployment.” He glanced at her. “I suggest you do the same.”