General Andrew Sullivan had never been angrier in his life. “Permission to speak freely, sir.”
Shirish paused for a moment as he considered the request. He knew Sullivan’s reputation for heated clashes and harsh talk. Were it not for that, Sullivan might possibly have had a third star by now. Of course, letting Sullivan vent now might save a lot of trouble further down the line. Nobody else could see or hear so it wouldn’t be detrimental to the crew if anything…impolitic was said. “Permission granted.”
“Where do you get off taking my ship?” Sullivan snarled through clenched teeth.
Shirish mulled over the question. He knew from reading Sullivan’s file that he was incredibly aggressive, the primary trait that had propelled him to this position. He also had a certain charmed fortune about him. Sullivan was often in the right place at the right time to benefit from the mistakes or misfortunes of others. The real question was whether he merely capitalized on opportunities or created them. Shirish’s guess was ruthless capitalization. Sullivan seemed too hot-headed to “create” opportunities without being seen and anticipated. But what Shirish did not have to guess about, seeing Sullivan’s young (for a general) hulking frame towering over him, was that Sullivan was a strong believer in the art of intimidation. Shirish thought that things like that were left behind in college fraternities or the barracks rooms of military academies. Of the possible stances he could take in replying to the question, counter-intimidation seemed the best way to proceed. He would have to break Sullivan and do it fast.
Shirish extended a finger and poked it to Sullivan’s chest. “Number one: the Winfield Scott is not ‘your’ ship. It is Earthforce’s ship. And it is under the command of whomever it is assigned to!”
Shirish extended a second finger and poked them into Sullivan’s chest. “Number two: that’s a bold question to ask considering I have four stars on my shoulders and you have only two!”
Shirish extended a third finger and poked them all into Sullivan’s chest. “Number three: my orders come directly yes I said DIRECTLY from the PRESIDENT! Therefore, the fleet is my fleet and the Scott is MY ship! Are we clear, Major General?”
Sullivan narrowed his eyes as his jaw twitched. His shoulders relaxed slightly. “Who did I piss off this time, then?”
Shirish might have breathed a sigh of relief if he didn’t think it would undermine his posture. “It’s not about you. It’s about our orders and the mission.”
“That’s bull and you know it. It’s always about politics.”
Shirish maintained his dominance. “Sir.”
Sullivan gazed back. “That’s bull and you know it, Sir.”
Shirish wielded the stick and it seemed to be working. Time to offer the carrot. “It is politics, Major General, but not the kind you think.” He softened his tone. “Look, I know you’re thinking about your career here. This assignment is a big feather in your cap and now it looks like someone else is going to get the credit. I’m sorry for that, but, once again, it has nothing to do with you or me. I didn’t make the orders. I’m just following them.”
The anger abated in Sullivan’s eyes just a little bit. Shirish’s acting job was successful. Time to reinforce everything. Shirish backed away out of Sullivan’s face and sat down behind the ready room desk. Remove the immediate threat and subtly maintain dominance... “Besides, I’ll probably be spending most of my time chained to a desk. You’re the one who’s going to be riding fire. I know I don’t have to tell you the importance of engaging the enemy but I give you my word: you do well in this and I’ll make it the goal of the rest of my career to get you that third star. Are we clear?”
Sullivan knew it was too late to win this one. He held his contempt and let go of a “Yes, sir.”
“Excellent. Make preparations for the fleet to jump. As soon as the scout telemetry comes in, I want us underway. Dismissed.” Shirish took a datapad and began reviewing consumption logs, taking his eyes from Sullivan.
Sullivan closed the door behind him, gave orders to bridge personnel and then went down the hall to cool himself down. It didn’t work. His thoughts were racing and gave him no solace. Damn fossils! I follow orders and I suffer. I work hard and they get the credit. This is my command. I earned it! And what? Does Gonzales think I’m stupid? ‘Rest of my career to get you a third star’ my ass! He’s a relic! How long until he retires? A year? Two? I’m sick of all these old men in my way! I’ll have a third star and it won’t be from you! You’ll screw up and when I come to the rescue, I’ll have it…SIR!