2950-08-30 – Tales from the Service: Filling An Officer’s Shoes

Though it seems the Navy is not yet willing to abandon forays into the Håkøya system entirely, this week it is being reported that several detachments of Fifth Fleet’s light cruisers and the more nimble heavy cruisers have returned to the outer Maribel system after simultaneous forays into the inner Nye Norge region. Other than Håkøya itself, most of the systems in this area are inhabited only by mining installations, and most of those outposts have probably been abandoned due to the risk of Incarnation raids.

The purpose of these forays was unclear, but probably it served mainly as a reconnaissance-in-force to gauge the level of Incarnation activity around Håkøya. Only the ill-fated mission to the Trond-Arud system has been publicized in any detail, and those details are grim: three light cruisers were lost, and the major ships that returned all suffered damage that will render them combat-incapable for some time. None of the four enemy cruisers present are thought to have been destroyed.

Coming so soon after the minor failure of the raid into Håkøya a few weeks ago, the action in Trond-Arud does suggest that the fleet’s cruisers are simply not equipped to fight their rough Incarnation equivalents.

[N.T.B. – There are three things of note which I’ve found in the reports from Trond-Arud.

Firstly, the cruisers seem to have been operating without their usual supporting; only a handful of the Navy’s fast fleet destroyers are reported to have been present. I can’t imagine why the remaining ships of each cruiser’s battle squadron were detached, but the action would certainly have gone better with them present. Were the ships dispatched to each of these systems similarly operating without support?

Secondly, the battle report suggests that the four Nate cruisers at Trond-Arud knew our ships were coming, including details of when and where. Their attack at the system outskirts couldn’t really be coordinated without that information. This is probably an indication that Incarnation spies are still operating here in Maribel.

Thirdly, the four light cruisers involved in this action were some of Fifth Fleet’s smallest; it’s hardly fair to put them in the same category as an Incarnation Tyrant-type. The heavy cruiser Badurad Page was the largest Fifth Fleet ship present, and it seems to have done better than the others. In terms of tonnage, Nate had a big advantage, even with fewer hulls.]

At the Colonel’s entrance, everyone in the barracks scrambled to line up and jump to attention. No command needed to be barked to the Marines; the glint of gold holographic insignias hovering over the newcomer’s shoulders was all they needed.

With an approving nod, Colonel Glass took a few steps down the long double line of Marines. There were thirty-six bunks on each side of the corridor, but only twenty-two of them had occupants on the left, and nineteen on the right. “I see you boys have settled in nicely.” He turned to his left. “Sergeant, have all of your troopers returned from shore leave?”

“No, sir.” Sergeant Hassan Russel shook his head without relaxing his stiff at-attention posture. He had just been promoted to Sergeant, and hoped he looked as intimidating with sergeant’s pips hovering over his shoulders as the man he had replaced. “Private Graner and Private Maslanka are due back on the next shuttle.”

“They’d better not miss their ride, then.” Glass turned around to face Sergeant Escarro, head of the opposite file. “And yours?”

“One in medbay, Colonel.” Escarro, far taller than Colonel Glass, stared straight ahead, not daring to look down to meet the officer’s gaze. “Reaction to local food.”

Glass nodded, folded his hands behind his back, then turned back towards the door. Hassan’s hope that the inspection would be perfunctory and brief died when the Colonel stopped well short of the threshold. “I just spoke with Lieutenant Yeung. They’re sending him back to the Core. He’s damned mad about it, but if the med-techs say that’s what he needs, then that’s what’s going to happen.”

In most units, talk of losing the commanding officer would have provoked a murmur, but the two files of Marines remained entirely silent, not having been given permission to stand at ease. Yeung had been their leader for longer than any of them except perhaps Sergeant Escarro had been in the unit. Losing him, even temporarily, was like being deprived of a parent.

“Most likely, Yeung will be back out here busting your asses in four to six months, but I can’t just leave you without a lieutenant for that long.”

At the Colonel’s words, huge Sergeant Escarro stood up somehow straighter. Hassan knew the man was anticipating a field promotion; there was no other candidate for the job.

“Nor do I want to fill Yeung’s shoes when he’s going to want them back.” Colonel Glass, with only the slightest glance toward Escarro, continued. “Until his return, my adjutant, Lieutenant Coughlan, will serve as your company commander. I trust I do not need to tell you how to obey her orders as if they were Lieutenant Yeung’s.”

At her name, the slight, lanky staff officer following Colonel Glass stepped into the barracks. Hassan didn’t even glance at her. Coughlan was well known among the ranks, mostly for being the biggest ego in the entire Twenty-First, and for having the absolute minimum combat experience possible to be a Marine officer. Coughlan, a staff officer, was rare among the already-uncommon women in the Marines for wearing makeup while on duty. She cared very much about her appearance, rarely got her feet muddy, and never got into a Rico suit if she could at all avoid it. When she did suit up, it was in one of the Twenty-First’s barely-armed, sensor-festooned electronic warfare suit, a machine that spent most of its time sitting behind the lines collecting data, jamming enemy signals, and generally doing anything except fighting the enemy.

Across from Hassan, Escarro’s face darkened, but his expression remained blank. No doubt, the senior sergeant had even more reason to be suspicious of Coghlan than Hassan did, and now he had one extra reason – she’d deprived him of advancement he probably thought he’d long since earned.

“This is, of course a temporary arrangement.” Glass, with a long glare at Escarro, walked down the line of Marines. “But reports of your behavior will be communicated to Yeung as soon as his recovery has advanced. Are there any questions?”

Of course, there were none, and Glass knew there wouldn’t be; he hadn’t waved them to ease yet. With a curt nod, the Colonel turned on his heel and marched out.

As soon as his retinue had followed, Lieutenant Coughlan palmed the control to close the door. Only when it had hissed shut did she wave the Marines to ease. “Let’s just make this as easy on each other as possible.” She folded her arms and leaned on the closed door. “I’m not Yeung, nor do I want to be. Sergeants, you know what this unit needs. My comms and my door are always open, but the less trouble you make for me, the less I need to be in your business. Are we all clear?”

Escarro snapped his right hand up into a sharp salute. Hassan followed suit, and soon the entire double row of Marines was doing the same. Coughlan’s position on the Colonel’s staff earned her a salute any time she crossed paths with the rank and file, Hassan felt like saluting her in Yeung’s place was somehow wrong.

“Good.” Coughlan returned the salute, and forty-one right arms fell away from the salute posture. “We’re on the training routine for the day after tomorrow. That means everyone lined up at dropship embarkation at zero four thirty. I’ll check on your sick man, Sergeant Escarro.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” Escarro managed to sound almost earnest.

With a suspicious, arched-eyebrow look at Escarro, then at Hassan himself, Lieutenant Coughlan made a quick exit.

As the door shut behind her, the men quietly returned to what they had been doing before the Colonel’s arrival. Hassan returned to his bunk and retrieved the reader slate he’d dropped. One by one, murmured conversations began to break out. Invariably, the Lieutenant’s name was involved in at least one of them.

“Oy, none of that!” Sergeant Escarro barked. “Another word against the Lieutenant, and I’ll put you in the medbay next to Haines.”

Hassan rolled his eyes, but the senior sergeant was right. Even if nobody liked Coughlan, she was their commanding officer now. It wouldn’t do for the men to be grumbling about their officers.