Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Past Looms, The Future Beckons

General Shirish Gonzalez read from a datapad as he was being shuttled over. Often, he would rest easy and enjoy these little shuttle trips. He so rarely got out into space any more, which was ironic because that is how he made his name in Earthforce. For him, the ships were no longer engines of destruction. They weren’t even pieces on a board anymore. The General saw them in a different light these days. They were instruments of political will. They were the loudspeakers of Earth and the good fence that made for good neighbors. And when Earth’s fence was tested, those ships danced a dark tango in the Court of Mars. Shirish cracked a smile. He was glad that wasn’t a bartender. If I mixed drinks, he thought, like I mix metaphors, I would surely have trouble making a living. He felt the light shudder of the dock clamps and knew the Minotaur had been reached. He stowed the datapad in a pocket and began to stand in anticipation of final procedures and debarking.

The shuttle doors opened to the sound of a boatswain’s whistle’s high, rising and descending pitch. “General on deck!” The honor guard snapped to attention, five on each side. The dress uniformed Command staff stood to attention as the Captain stepped forward and offered a salute. “Welcome aboard, General!” Shirish returned the salute, suppressing a sigh and the urge to roll his eyes. Ceremony was essential to discipline and morale, therefore stay galley had to be endured, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. His mind stepped back and let scripted responses take over. He noted the names -Captain Nagumo, Commander Gonzales, Doctor Eames, Chief Carroll – and made the appropriate responses. Ceremony was served and niceties were exchanged as they had been a thousand times before. When the Captain offered a tour, Shirish’s mind returned to the fore now that thought was required.

“I would be happy to inspect the Minotaur, but I have to contact Earthdome. Would it be an inconvenience to delay the tour?”

“Of course, sir. At your earliest convenience, General.”

“Thank you, Captain.” The Earthdome contact line worked every time. “Can you spare your XO to show me to my quarters?”

“Yes, sir. You have the liberty of the ship. If there is anything you need, please do not hesitate let me know.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Shirish gave an order to the shuttle pilot and turned to the Commander. “After you, Commander Gon-za-les.”

The XO led Shirish through dimly lit hallways. “Why do you let them butcher our name like that, Bobby?” Shirish asked.

“Because, sir, it’s easier. I say it properly and everyone thinks I’m your son.”

Shirish chuckled. “There’s a reason for that, son.”

Robert Gonzales turned to his father. “You should be leading this mission.”

“I am old. Exploration like this is a young man’s game. Besides, I haven’t commanded an expeditionary force in over a decade.”

“There’s nobody more experienced in extended campaigns like this than you are.”

“Nonsense. Thirty-five years ago, I was good in battle. Fifteen years ago, I was a master of logistics. Today, I’m the undisputed expert on the art of testifying before subcommittees. I’m not the man for this.“

The two officers and porter reached a stateroom and entered. The porter left bags where instructed and scurried out before Robert continued. “And you think Sullivan is?”

From another junior officer, Shirish might have mentioned the insubordinate tone of that comment. But he and Robert had wrangled over so many subjects over the years, yet Robert still did his duty. He could give his son latitude. “Is this a question of his ability or his role in the civil war?”

Son looked father in the eye. “You know what he did.”

The father returned the look. “He followed the orders of his chain of command. If I were as judgmental as you, I might take you to task for siding with Sheridan.”

“Sheridan did what nobody else on Earth was willing to do!”

“Even if that’s true, it is not the role of the military to rebel. Clark was the constitutionally legal President…”

“Assassinating Santiago and subverting the Constitution is legal now?”

Shirish began to speak then held back his words for a moment before speaking again. “Bobby, I endure the Athenian wrestling match of politics all the time. Can I get away from it for a little while with my son?”

Robert relented. “Sorry, dad.”

“Thank you. And, just between us, Sullivan was chosen because of the black project work he was over back then. I know you’ve all been briefed on the mission parameters. Vorlons and Shadows? Sullivan has more experience with Shadow technology than anyone outside of the eggheads following along. And nobody knows anything about Vorlons. So right now he’s the best man for the job.”

“That’s a nice, rational piece of cold logic.”

“More like a rationalization, but it’s not wrong. And that’s neither here nor there. I’m just here to see my boy and get a ride to the Scott’s shakedown and maybe, if I’m lucky, see the Charybdis again..”

Robert sat in a chair. “That must be really exciting for you. I know how hard you pushed to get the Scott named.”

Shirish looked out a porthole into the vastness of the stars beyond. “Sometimes I think back to the first time I floated down the Charybdis’ halls and wonder if that wasn’t the happiest time of my life. Of course, we were young then and didn’t know as much as we do now about what’s out there. And she wasn’t the equal of the Omega by any means, but back then…” His voice trailed off into memory.

Robert smiled. “I know, Dad. I read the book.”

Shirish shot a quick grin back. “So you’re one of the ten people who bought it!”

“You know, I once had a professor at the Academy ask if he could meet you. He said he wanted to talk to you about that first meeting on the Scott with Carstairs and Cargano and Kallis.”

Shirish began to drown in memory. “I’m sure he did. There’s not an officer or academic who wouldn’t have wanted to be a fly on that bulkhead.” So many old friends gone. If it wasn’t the Dilgar, it was the Minbari. And those who survived, so many were lost in the Civil War. “It’s a terrible thing to grow old in our profession.” Shirish pulled out the datapad and turned back to Robert. “That’s why this is a young man’s game. You have duties to attend to. Give this to the Captain. He’s going to show it to you anyway so you can look at it, too.”

Robert stood and took the pad. “I’ll come see you again when I get off duty. Dinner tonight?”

“That sounds fine. See you then, Bobby.”

“See you then, Dad.” Robert walked out, closing the door behind him and stared at the datapad. Curiosity got the better of him. He touched a button and the screen sprang to life…

Resource Allocation, Expulsion Fleet:

EAS Winfield Scott - Omega Command Destroyer
EAS Ajax - Omega Destroyer
EAS Minotaur - Omega Destroyer
EAS Red Cliffs - Omega Pulse Destroyer
EAS Fairfax - Hyperion Cruiser
EAS Portsmouth - Hyperion Cruiser
EAS Wurzburg - Hyperion Cruiser
EAS Charybdis - Nova Dreadnought
EAS Viraat - Avenger Heavy Carrier
EAS Marco Polo- Explorer Survey Ship
EAS Murmansk - Hyperion Assault Cruiser
EAS Falcon - Oracle Scout Cruiser
EAS Miller - Oracle Scout Cruiser
EAS Panther - Oracle Scout Cruiser
EAS Tolliver - Oracle Scout Cruiser
EAS John Layton – Hermes Transport
EAS Barnardo O'Higgins – Hermes Transport

Alpha Wing –ThunderBolt Fury Wing
Beta Wing – ThunderBolt Fury Wing
Delta Wing –Badger Fury Wing
Zeta Wing – Badger Fury Wing

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