Friday, November 5, 2010

Laurels, Part 1

“Amazing, isn’t she?”

Shirish looked at the bridge view screen like a child seeing his heart’s desire for the first time, eyes wide and mouth agape. “I’ve read all the reports and schematics, but in my dreams, I never imagined…”

Captain Nagumo ordered the Minotaur to pull alongside the Winfield Scott. “Quite a far cry from the old days, wouldn’t you say, sir?”

“Are you kidding?” Shirish replied. “For a couple of years, there was concern I could never go back to Earth because of all the time I spent commanding zero-g warships. Now I’m walking inside instead of floating around. And I’m still not quite used to it.”

“I understand that some of the early graviton generation tech went into the Scott’s construction so at full centrifugal turn, gravity is almost Earth normal inside. Of course, this is from before we got gravity tech from the ISA.”

“Still, Captain, there’s little to rival human ingenuity. Two centuries ago we were still stuck on Earth and now we’re…”

The comms officer interrupted. “Captain, we have an incoming transmission from Earthdome.” The young officer listened to an earpiece for a moment before continuing. “It’s for General Gonzales, Priority...Ultraviolet.”

“General, my ready room is at your disposal.”

“Thank you, Captain.” The General stepped into the sparse office and stood before the screen, taking a moment to straighten and brush the wrinkles from his jacket before he spoke. “This is General Gonzales. Accept incoming message.” He did not expect to see the Seal of the President. As many times as he had met or spoken with various Presidents, he was always a little nervous. Especially with President Luchenko. Of course, that had less to do with her position and more to do with the slight crush he had on her. Yes, he was getting old, but he could still appreciate a pretty woman. And Minifred, his wife, thought it was both funny and cute that her “rival” was the President, of all people. Strangely, Shirish had always thought Luchenko’s features were a little more Polish than Russian, but he had never had the opportunity to inquire about that. Whenever he spoke to the President, there were always more important things to discuss.

Luchenko’s face came into view. “Good day, General. How are you doing?” she said with that lovely accent of hers.

“I am doing well, Madame President. And yourself? Enjoying being able to govern instead of campaigning?”

“I am doing well, and it is refreshing to do actual work. Thank you for asking.”

“How may I serve you today, Madame President?”

“I am aware that you are planning to announce your intention to retire on your return to Earth.”

Shirish was a bit surprised that she was aware but he had not kept it secret. “That is true, Ma’am. I think forty years is long enough. Besides, I promised my wife a honeymoon thirty-eight years ago and I think she’s starting to get surly about it.”

“General, I need you to perform one last mission on Earth’s behalf. You will take command of the Expulsion Fleet and drive the Vorlons and the Shadows away.”

Shirish furrowed his brow. “Madame President, with all due respect, is this a good idea? I haven’t been in direct command of assets in over a decade. Wouldn’t Ryan or Touelle or Lefcourt be better choices for this assignment?”

“The issue here is time. We have begun to receive intelligence from our forward scouts reporting both Drazi and Narn communications. If they are already there, we need to engage as soon as possible. It would take weeks to get any of the others to where you are right now. We are officially working with the ISA on this project, but it is essential that Earthforce be the ones to drive away the Shadows and Vorlons. So you are perfect for this, General.”

Shirish thought for a moment and put two and two together. She wants them gone and to be able to say that we drove them all off and if it all goes badly, I’m a good scapegoat because I’m retiring anyway. Political brinksmanship disguised as military action… “Madame President, I will carry out your orders to the best of my ability. I will require my staff and official orders to come through channels, but, that aside, we will be under way in 24 hours.”

“Very good, General. I knew I could rely on you. And remember, let nothing stand in your way. Earth must end this threat in a way that speaks to both the Ancient races and the other galactic powers.”

“Consider it done, Ma’am.”

“God’s speed and good luck to you, General. Luchenko out.”

The screen went dead. Shirish sat down in a slump and closed his eyes. Six thousand souls in my hands against God only knows what force more technologically advanced than anything I can imagine. What good can I possibly do against that? And thoughts flooded from his memory…

Carstairs said “I think you're a good officer. If you weren't, I wouldn't have requested you.”
Doctor Marengo said “If you can survive this, you can survive anything.”
Bobby said “You should be leading this mission.”
President Luchenko said “I knew I could rely on you.”
And Minnie held his cheek. “You’ll always come back to me.”

The General burst from the office onto the bridge. “Captain Nagumo, have a shuttle prepped ASAP and inform General Sullivan that I am coming over.”

Nagumo began giving supplemental orders as The General looked back to the Winfield Scott. “He’ll want to know why, sir.”

Shirish shot a glance of annoyance to Nagumo and then put his gaze back on the Scott. “Tell him I have one more victory to win.”

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