2950-09-06 – Tales from the Service: An Officer’s Oracle 

This week, in a continuation of the account we began last week, we find that there’s more to the supposedly vain, out-of-touch lieutenant appointed to head Sergeant Russel’s unit. While I did not make mention of it last week due to the large amount of information we had to share about the action in Trond-Arud, this account was sent in by Sergeant Russel (this is his real name) but it bore the authorization signature of Lieutenant Coughlan (also her real name). It refers to events months old, so there is no actionable military information in its description of the regiment’s training schedule. 

There will be at least one more item in this series. 

Unfortunately, we don’t have much more on Trond-Arud than we did last week. Fifth Fleet started off being quite open about the fiasco, but has tightened its grip on details ever since the surviving ships returned to Maribel. 

Sergeant Hassan Russel was surprised when the door to Lieutenant Coughlan’s shipboard office opened. He’d expected it to be small, and it was. He’d expected it to be impeccably clean, and it was. What he hadn’t expected were the books. Two huge, glass-fronted shelving units filled to bursting with old paper books seemed to comprise Coughlan’s entire allotment of personal effects. 

“Exactly on time, Sergeant.” Coughlan beckoned Hassan in. “Please, have a seat.” 

There was only one chair in the tiny space besides her own, which would have been too small for Hassan except that it lacked arms. Gingerly, he eased himself down into it. Were it not for shipboard half-gee standard gravitics, he suspected it would have failed under his weight. “You asked to see me, Lieutenant?” 

Coughlan nodded, her eyes on a data-slate laying on her desk, but she said nothing immediately. 

Hassan tried to scan her face for clues as to why he’d been summoned but found this a discomfiting and unprofitable exercise. Yeung had been open and free with his Marines, and had worn his emotions on his sleeve, but Coughlan’s face was as blank as a death-mask.  

Hassan diverted his attention to the nearer of the shelves, and to the books within. Every title he could make out seemed to be related to the ancient military campaigns of old earth. The ones taught by Marine instructors were represented, but there were others whose names he didn’t recognize, names which seemed more fantastic than historical, like Casablanca, Tarawa, and Gallipoli. 

Finished reading from her data slate, Coughlan finally looked up. At her gesture, the door behind Hassan slid shut. “I will make this quick, and I will be frank. My predecessor was very popular with the troops, and frankly, I’ll be the first one in line to welcome him back. In the meantime, we’re stuck with each other, and it benefits us both if this unit is run smoothly, without disturbances.” 

Hassan shrugged. “Seems like a concern for the senior sergeant, sir.” 

Coughlan’s eyes narrowed, giving Hassan a good look at the makeup she’d applied to the lids. The idea of a front-line Marine wearing makeup still didn’t sit well with him. Perhaps a few weeks in the mud of a contested would rid her of the habit. “Sergeant Escarro is precisely the sort of disturbance I wish to avoid.” 

Hassan blinked slowly, quietly aghast at what was being suggested. “Sir, Mr. Escarro is one of the most experienced Marines in the regiment. I can’t possibly-” 

“Yes, yes.” Coughlan waved away the protest. “I don’t want to remove him or punish him. He hasn’t done anything yet. He will, though.” She stood, folding her arms behind her back. “I just want you to talk to him before he does anything worth punishing. Hopefully talk him out of it.”  

“He’s on the waiting list for officer school.” Hassan shook his head. “I hardly think he’ll throw that away for some prank.” 

Coughlan smiled. The expression was so cold that the temperature in the tiny office seemed to drop several degrees. “He’ll do something. I can’t stop him, I can only punish him after he’s done it. Sergeant Russel, I am sorry, but you’re the one with any prayer of doing anything about it.” 

Hassan stood uncertainly. “If you say so, sir.” He didn’t know what else to say; it would be improper to ask why she thought so little of a Marine who wasn’t present. Wanting very much to leave, he simply saluted. 

With a single weary wave, Coughlan dismissed the salute and opened the door. “Don’t forget we’ve got another training drop the day after tomorrow.” 

“I’ll remind the troops, Lieutenant.” Hassan saluted again and ducked out. Though grateful to be heading back to the barracks level, he had a distressing feeling that Lieutenant Coughlan’s prediction would prove far more credible than he wanted to believe.