“You cannot take these supplies, sir.”
That was Lieutenant Commander Fiona Kellerman, one of Sharon Stanton’s senior staff officers for Belt Two base, and she and two regular-duty spacers were standing with arms folded, blocking the hatch to Belt Two base’s arms storage bay.
Captain Dwight Bahim was nose-to-nose with Fiona, and he, of course, was the skipper of Sean Cook’s frigate, Yukon. Behind Bahim were a dozen of his squadron’s SF guards, each of them carrying only a sidearm because they’d left all their EP-5s with the Guild.
“We’re entitled to those weapons, we filed the paperwork. Stand aside Lieutenant Commander,” Bahim’s tone was stern, but those of you who know Fiona Kellerman’s reputation from later life will know his tone did nothing to dissuade her.
“Your paperwork is being processed,” Fiona’s tone was dead. “You take them, that’ll be a criminal act against the interests of the service.”
“That is blatant insubordination, Lieutenant Commander,” Bahim boomed, and Fiona tilted her head with a rather unimpressed gaze.
“That wasn’t insubordination. Now, if I was calling you a rapist and a murderer, that would be insubordination.”
It’s funny, now that I think of it, this incident was the first one that ever brought Fiona to my attention – and what an entrance.
“Lieutenant Savilla! I am placing this officer under arrest for insubordination!” Bahim was being creative with his intimidation attempts; one of his SFers stepped forward and drew her sidearm, not raising it but certainly trying to stare Fiona down.
Fiona wasn’t armed, nor were the two young loading dock supervisors with her, but the three stood their ground. Word had gotten around about the character and actions of the Independent Squadron’s crews, and barely-contained rage was the general response from Defense Command personnel all through Belt Two.
Such would have been the reaction I’d have expected, to be honest. Belt Two base, like the Belt Squadron as a whole, is generally populated with the very best officers and crew – to be working at Belt Two, every woman and man needs more than a few solid recommendations.
None of the people on the base, then, were going to be high-fiving the men and women of the Independent Squadron. It might shock you to think that anyone would be impressed by what Cook’s people did, but in those early days, before Egesta really got out of control, I did hear some supportive rumblings from the darker corners of the fleet.
That’s not important for the moment, though: Fiona and her two supporters were unarmed and Bahim was threatening to arrest her for insubordination.
Imagine how well that went over with both Sharon Stanton and Wes, who were watching this exchange via the base internal cameras (the feed I’ve since watched).
Sitting in the C&C center for the base (Wes was watching from Cheetah’s bridge), Sharon was the one who could actually react to the situation, so she tabbed the intercom and huffed a short sigh, “Marcus, Fiona will be needing your help.”
Getting back to the standoff, Fiona had elected to lock eyes with Lieutenant Savilla, her steely glare attacking the Independent Squadron officer with relish, “What, you think you can play fast and loose, Lieutenant? You’re out of line, get back with your SFers.”
Savilla’s mouth twisted into a bit of a snarl, and starting to raise her mag, she stepped closer to Fiona. That wasn’t the best move; Fiona got a hold of Savilla’s wrist, and while the Lieutenant struggled vainly, Fiona managed to wrest the gun out of her hand.
Now that must have been embarrassing.
The SFers behind Bahim bristled as their Lieutenant was disarmed, but they didn’t unholster their own weapons.
“That’s an action against a direct order in wartime, Lieutenant Commander. You’re now in line to be shot,” Bahim stepped forward, and Fiona stared right back at him.
This was only destined to get worse, which is why it was fortunate that Major Marcus Atallah, of Cheetah’s Special Branch (of course), arrived on scene with his squad. The clomp of their boots was enough to draw the attention of Yukon’s SF guards, and glares were exchanged between the Independent Squadron personnel and Atallah’s officers.
“Is there a problem here, Lieutenant Commander?” Atallah was clearly playing the formality card, addressing his own officer before acknowledging Bahim.
Fiona straightened up and kept Savilla’s mag dangling at her side, “Major, Captain Bahim here is attempting to draw fifteen palettes of MAG-90s from our stores without an order signed by Captain Stanton and Commander Liebgott.”
Major Atallah nodded severely, his grip on his MAG-90 tightening as he turned to Captain Bahim, “Sir, I’m sorry, but until I see a countersigned order by the Captain and the XO, I cannot allow weapons to be released from this storage facility.”
“You’re in no position to give me orders, Major,” Bahim boomed again.
With a barely visible nod, Atallah ordered his officers to raise their weapons, and the SFers behind Bahim tensed. These weren’t panicky sorts – you can’t be panicky and rape and pillage, I suppose – but they weren’t fools when it came to the odds in a situation like this. They had no chance at all of beating a deployed Special Branch squad.
Bahim’s eyes narrowed, sweeping quickly from Atallah to Fiona and then across a couple of the Special Branchers.
“So you are in a position,” the Independent Squadron Captain said after a pause. “Not for long. Lieutenant, we’re returning to Yukon.”
With that, he about-faced in a smart maneuver and marched away.
Marcus Atallah lowered his weapon and turned to pat Fiona on the shoulder, “Nice work.”
Fiona Kellerman let out a sigh and nodded, the adrenalin rush ending and fatigue starting to creep in. She’d made one hell of a stand…
Sean Cook was annoyed. The very thought of that bastard being annoyed gives me some pleasure, though he wasn’t the sort of man to allow his annoyance to go unanswered.
This meant, of course, that he was in Sharon Stanton’s office next to the C&C of Belt Two base about an hour after Bahim clumped back aboard Yukon. And he was throwing quite a tantrum.
“As a Commodore, I have superior authority. I have requisitioned stores and you have no authority to overturn that requisition!”
Sharon cocked an eyebrow at the repetition in that exclamation – she was recording this conversation to protect herself against future accusations, and she figured I’d get a kick out of Cook’s childish idiocy. As much as I got a kick out of anything to do with Egesta, I suppose I did get a kick out of that.
Sharon, I should say (because I really haven’t spent enough time talking about her yet this series) was hardly intimidated by Cook. She’d been a combat officer, skippering a frigate with the Belt Squadron until the year before Deep Black, when a shrapnel fragment had clipped the base of her spine and she’d nearly been paralyzed. It’d taken her the two years since then to complete the requisite surgeries and to learn to walk, and though by this time she was on her feet and in her estimation ready to take combat duty, the doctors had kept her on Belt Two base, where the gravity was consistent and light enough to allow her to heal properly.
As you probably know, she was due back in space soon enough.
That all considered, it should be no surprise that Sean Cook was failing to intimidate her at the moment.
“I command this base, and I’m under orders from the Admiralty to retain those weapons until they are requisitioned by central command. You’ll have to put your paperwork through Admiralty House, and probably explain just what happened to all your squadron’s EP-5s,” her tone was frosty, and Cook’s eyes bored into her.
Or, as she told me later, they tried to bore into her.
There was then a knock on the door, and the hatch swung open before either Cook or Sharon could look towards it.
“I hear somebody tried to steal fifteen palettes of MAG-90s,” Wes Pellew stepped into the office and said the words while staring directly at Cook. “Who exactly would try to pull something like that, I wonder?”
Cook’s sharp stare turned on Wes, and our Belt Squadron veteran returned it with interest.
“It seems insubordination and lack of respect for the chain of command is a chronic problem around here,” Cook spat the words.
“We don’t like rapists and murderers flying our colors,” Wes’ flat retort forced Cook to take a step towards him.
“I’m sorry, let me ask again, have there been any orders that stripped me of my rank, or are you still junior to me, Captain Pellew?”
Wes nearly snapped, but he kept himself in check through an epic force of will, “You’re still standing there a free man, aren’t you?”
“I am. And I’m officially going to petition the Admiralty for command here, since you two seem incapable of putting your jobs above the wellbeing of a rock that was asking to be used for a little recreation.”
This is on a recording. I wouldn’t have believed he said it either, but then, by this time in my career I should have been used to the idiocy of some of the people in the service.
I guess you never get used to some things.
“You’re not going to get command,” Wes shook his head slowly. “Sharon, why don’t you open a message window to First Lord Fiora right now. Let’s see what he says.”
Sharon smiled thinly, “That sounds about right.”
Turning to her desk, she grabbed her remote and used it to open a new message window.
Cook’s nostrils had begun to flare, and he let out a long breath, “Well, seems you’ve drawn a line in the sand. Can I expect my ships to receive any supplies from this base?”
Sharon’s thin smile twitched, “Of course, Commodore. I’ll give you everything you could ask for, as long as I get the right paperwork from Admiralty House. Do they have a rape requisition form?”
You might think that the ‘rape and murder’ card is being played too much. Did we really have to keep hitting these bastards over the head with it in every conversation, slide in as many references to it as possible? Well, yes. We Defense Command officers at this time were still just getting our heads around it.
I mean, our job is to defend (hence the name) and so when we hear about our own service doing something as ghastly as what the Independent Squadron had done, we make a point of calling them on it. Sharon and Wes were both ready to lock Cook up as soon as they could safely do so, but in the meantime they’d just embarrass him or make him feel as uncomfortable as possible.
It was all they could do, so they were beating the ‘rape and murder’ horse right to death.
Back to the conversation, Cook took the insult and turned red, then grunted and spat more words, “We’ll be breaking dock in the morning, then. I’ll go somewhere I can get support. And you two will be remembered for jeopardizing the war effort for your petty reasons.”
He then stomped out.
“Petty,” Sharon muttered the word. “Petty.”
Wes’ harsh gaze had followed Cook as the Commodore stormed out of the office, so now he turned back to face Sharon, “Sure. I suppose to him the law is petty. But now we have a new problem.”
Sharon frowned, “Uhm…”
“Think about it,” Wes said quietly. “Where can he go to get help? There aren’t a lot of Belt colonies with the firepower to keep him in check…”
Sharon’s eyes widened ever so slightly, “And Belt Fourteen base…”
They did have a new problem.