49: Goblin Driver 15 – Confrontation

“Those guns on Sebka B, they’ll be able to shoot at me during the whole run.”

“They’ll be able to shoot at you,” I agreed, but shook my head. “But not the whole run. The threat from A orbit is kinetics and supervelocity missiles, which is why they can target B orbit. But they aren’t going to waste those on a little lander, and you can’t fire them from the surface through a dense atmosphere, so the ground isn’t shooting those at you. As long as we get you out with the right timing so that you’re not under the enemy fleet around Sebka A while in range of their ion projectors, you’re okay. You’re only dodging ion projectors from the ground when you get near B. It’s only the last ten thousand kilometers or so that those become effective, thanks to degradation from the atmosphere.”

“Ten thousand kilometers is still a lot.”

“If we plot your path right, we can limit that. The range shortens if they’re firing closer to the horizon.

“That’s what they’re saying there?” he wondered.

I handed the paper over, but said, “No. Everything else here is sitrep on the rest of the system, for my navigation. I’ve read off what they said about the situation changes at Sebka. The rest is what I understand from it.”

“So you’re guessing,” he said, with the tension disappearing from his face. Dissatisfaction was replacing it. He seemed to have decided I had been worrying him for nothing.

“I’m giving you a read based on standard in-system battle strategy,” I answered, slightly mystified. After all, that was part of what I was there to do.

A slight jeering smirk grew on his face. “So you’re guessing. What would a goblin driver know about space strategy?”

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I scowled at him, although my face felt a bit of heat. I worried that I might have sounded a little arrogant. “Only what I’ve studied for the flag officer exams, I’ll admit. My development training includes battle sims, so the experience I’ve gathered from those, as well.”

He let out a laugh. “Flag officer exams? Battle Sims? Why bother?”

“Why bother?” I echoed, confused. 

He rolled his eyes and told me, straight to my face, to my disbelief, “A goblin driver is a washout, right? You’re not going to Battle Fleet, except if you get command of a bigger cargo vessel. You’re not Mister Mighty Space Captain, Skipper. There’s no point in someone like you taking the flag exams.”

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I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. The term ‘washout’ term usually struck in the craw of someone like Farley, who had nerveware but never managed to qualify for interstellar piloting. Failure to even qualify as an officer put he and Red even lower on the totem pole than Kirkwood, who had squeaked through and received a commission through her training corps stint. Both he and Poppy had to hear themselves referred to as ‘washouts’ by the more insensitive. Not only that, but he’d finally come out and said to my face the sort of thing he’d been saying to Red behind my back.

Martins’ voice came through the speakerbox about as dark with anger as mine probably would be, if I weren’t holding my tongue and trying to figure out a civil way to respond. “Is this what you’ve been dealing with, Captain?”

I gave Joss, whose non-human expression was unreadable as always, a quick glance while answering in curt tones, “This might be a slight escalation.”

Her alien mind must have been working against her, because Joss only then seemed to catch on that the Chief’s words weren’t appropriate. Her eyes narrowed and she told him, “Chief Farley, those words are bordering on insubordination.”

“Insubordination?” Chief Farley echoed with surprise.

What the hell, Farley? I thought at him. Were you asleep during basic training?

The Zindavoor pursed her lips, then stated, in a rapid fire, recitation manner, “This PTO commands the mission, but is not the superior officer on board. During operations this one has the rank equivalent of first lieutenant. In Aviation Corps terms, this one is a lieutenant junior grade. As a senior aviator, the captain’s equivalent rank is that of a lieutenant senior grade. In Surface Corps terms, the Captain is a sub-major. He is one rank superior to PTO First Class and is Chief Farley’s superior by several ranks.

‘Sub-major’ is another of those weird Surface Corps ranks. It’s their equivalent to a captain in the US Army or Marines. It reminds me of the British officers in the ESDF who call ensigns ‘sub-lieutenants’.

She turned toward me and asked, “Is this an accurate summation, Captain Resnik?”

My ears were getting a bit red, since I do not like to flaunt my position or put myself on a pedestal. But yeah, since Martins was strictly in command of the escort, I was indeed the senior officer as far as this ship and mission were concerned.

“Um, yes,” I confirmed, trying to avoid looking embarrassed.

But then the PTO ratcheted it up. She turned back to Farley. “Chief, with respect to the term ‘wash-out’, it is derogatory toward members of the Training Corps, current or former, such as Lieutenant Kirkwood.”

“I just meant…”

“And it does not apply in any fashion to a pilot such as Captain Resnik, who has never been a member of the Training Corps, and who received his wings before fourteen as a so-called ‘teeny’. He also achieved a score of double ace as a flying cadet as a Banshee pilot before he transferred to large craft, and so in no way can be characterized as having failed to perform as a pilot.”

I had begun dying a slow death listening to this, because of the audience. Kirkwood was a deck officer and etiquette required her to be included in the staff meeting, so she was monitoring at that moment from the helm. She didn’t need to hear my history being compared so favorably against her own

Joss continued, “Someone not from Gulf Base Three wouldn’t have known about that, but still should have realized the captain is extraordinary from his being a Senior Aviator, which less than one-fourth of all youth aviation officers ever reach, and should have considered that the Senior Avatar in question is also a youth officer in command of a star ship. That is an extraordinary achievement, Chief, and one very few youth officers have ever accomplished. Furthermore, the Captain acquired command of Morris Higgins shortly before his sixteenth birthday.

By the time she broadly emphasized the age at which I both graduated to Senior Aviator rank and took over as Mo’s master, my ears were probably shining bright red. Why the hell does she know so much about me? 

I knew she would be well-informed, being one of the longest serving soldiers at Gulf Base Three– Zindavoor live a lot longer than humans– but her knowledge about me was oddly detailed. “PTO Joss, this isn’t necessary…”

And she wasn’t done. “As to whether he should be taking flag exams, he is in fact required to take them, as a first priority command track officer. They are mandatory for him.”

“Thank you, PTO,” I stated more firmly. “That is enough.”

Her head swiveled back my way and she nodded briskly, her expression as ironclad as always. She showed no sign of recognizing the torture she’d been putting me through.

Farley looked dissatisfied. I’m no mind reader, but I suspected that he thought he was being BS’ed. Personally, I don’t know if Zindavoor know how to BS.

Unfortunately for him, everything Joss had just said was true, although one detail was slightly off. I didn’t ‘transfer’. I was transferred. Passive voice, not active. They yanked me out of the 77th and stuck me into a Goblin without asking if I wanted it. 

Maybe my CO talked about me ‘heading for bigger things’, but I assume he meant command of a logistics group and, if I’m lucky, maybe a division some day. I mean, that’s what my experience would argue for, right? So calling me ‘flag officer track’ might put one in mind of the big cruisers and carriers, but the way I saw it, for me it meant a path up the ladder directly above me. The future Cody Resnik could only aspire to Admiral of a mighty Goblin fleet.

I wanted to get out now, so I handed the other paper I had over to her. “PTO, this is the dispatch specific to the chief’s mission. I’ll let you review this with him. Surface operations are not my specialty. Anyone have any questions?”

Martins had a copy of both dispatches already, so she just said, “None, Captain. We will discuss the flight path out of meeting, right?”

“I’ll give you a call in about fifteen minutes,” I confirmed. “That is all.”

I escaped immediately.

The paper I had given Joss was also a headache, but it was their headache rather than mine. During all the situation changes, Farley’s landing area had also changed. It wasn’t a different location, but the local conditions had deteriorated. We had only expected to drop specialized supplies for the Ondo into an area near the center of a pocket under pressure by Slave ground forces. 

But now, that pocket had been sliced in half, and anywhere on the side that Farley’s LZ was in could now take fire. And for some reason the local command considered it meaningless to redirect Farley to a safer landing site. It had to be the exact spot designated. It sounded as if the Ondo couldn’t go meet us.

It was Joss and Farley’s problem, but I had already started to draft plans anyway, for an alternative to him running the obstacle course that the cislunar space of Sebka had become. But it would be Joss’s call to accept them, and she couldn’t order it if Farley refused to risk his craft on my plans.

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