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Three Years a Commander

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Admiral’s Call – Admiral Halveston’s Estate; Loraine, France

     The dispatch arrived yesterday afternoon. Either it was perfect timing or they expected us, we weren’t sure, though it seemed the latter was most probable. The Captain, Commander, and I have been summoned to Admiral Halveston’s personal estate in Loraine for what can be considered a ‘house call’. Not unusual, though rare, but we weren’t sure what the purpose was. Since it was not reporting to a headquarters of any sort, we were certain it wasn’t anything bad. We would still have jobs once we returned, we concluded.

     Two days later we arrived by transport to the estate. It was an incredible place – the Ministry really knew how to take care of its own. Not really knowing what or who to expect, we made sure we put on a proper display – our finest uniforms with bright gold trimmings and buttons, row of medals, gold shoulder braids and boards. The Captain seemed a little concerned, but unless he knew something I didn’t then I wasn’t worried about him. My best guess was a pat on the back and a medal for the Captain, so I left it at that. Walking up to the estate we made our way casually, our little group, the early summer heat beginning to be felt below the layers. Making our way up the stairs to the entrance, hands on our swords to reduce the clanking.

     Handshakes go around, nodding of heads in respect to the Admiral. Halveston was a good man. I never served with him, but the Captain said he knew the Admiral when he was a Commander, the Captain an Ensign. I’ve only heard good things, so it really was a pleasure. We have afternoon drinks in the shade behind the estate, going on about the service and latest shenanigans, senior level palace intrigue and gossip – the usual. After dinner we gather in his study. I walk around the room glancing over the bookshelves, wondering if I’ll ever even be able to understand what all of this really means.

     “I appreciate you staying around, Gentlemen” Admiral Halveston says, taking a seat on the couch.

     “Of course, Sir” the Captain replies, “we were more than happy after our last journey.”

     “That’s just it,” Halveston continues, “I wanted to discuss how effective we are against the enemy. Things such as the function of the crew, operations on the gun deck, relaying commands and its effects in pitched engagements.”

     “I hate to be rude, Sir, but…are there issues with how we handle the ship?”

     “No” Halveston quickly replies, adjusting his seat, clipping his cigar, “this is about the current state of things. About modernization. About relevance.” He strikes a match, lighting the end in a huff, “So – Leftenant?” The mention of my rank brings me back to reality, the Captain looking to me quickly as well. The Commander shifts his gaze between the three of us, a surprised smirk on his face.

     A hesitation, “Myself, Sir?” The Admiral nods as if I were simple. Good Lord I thought, a nice start to things. I go on for a few minutes about how well things are run on the ship. Praise the leadership, honor the men, recognize their bravery.

     The Admiral listens and goes along, messing with his vice between his fingers, “Like I said…Leftenant?”

     “Right, Sir” I reply in a low voice, moving to a chair. He gestures and I sit, hat beside me, sword to the side. Enough with the Homage, get down to it…

The conversation goes on, my points direct and – mostly – supportive of the way things are now.

     “Your last engagement seems to be proof of that principle” Halveston says, a light inhale as he had done these past ten minutes.

     “Usually I make the decision to load one side early – “

     “As ordered to do so, Leftenant” the Captain injects quickly. I feign a tight smile, a nod to the Captain. Without correcting myself, I continue. The Admiral looks to the Captain, then back to me.

     “Sir” I regain myself a bit, “The most significant drawback from the ships design still, to this day, remains the gun charge when drawing power from the ship while maneuvering. There needs to be a way to divide the two. Maneuver, though still commit energy to the guns while in motion – especially while inverted. Right now there’s a contest between the two – maneuver and firepower. Sometimes…”I say, catching myself – but to hell with it if he wants to know – “I fire earlier than I like for fear of losing a few seconds of power as we move around targets.”

     From there the Admiral wrinkles his brow a bit, taking out his cigar, begins to lean forward.

   “And sacrifice maneuverability in the middle of an engagement?” the Captain asks. Admiral Halveston doesn’t move – Shit.

     “And who’s going to cut off this power to the Captain? You, Leftenant?” the Admiral says.

     I gather myself, try not to back down, “Sir” I say, a light swallow, “just an observation, Sir. With my limited experience, I’m sure that I’m out of place by not fully understanding of the finer points of interstellar maneuverability. Sir.”

   “I should say not” the Captain huffs quickly. The Admiral turns his head to the Captain – back to me. Eyebrows raised, then lowered, the Admiral taps the couch with his hands. “Well” he says while rising. We all stand as he does, “Thank you, Gentlemen. I’ll speak to the Captain now.” The Admiral doesn’t look at me, nor does the Captain. The Commander and I leave the room and close the door behind us. I pretend to admire some of the décor in the hall, avoiding the awkward pressure from the Commander. Tapping on my hat, I meander around – feeling the Commander looking at me.

Some time goes by. We can hear their discussion as mumbles through the door. A raised voice here and there, but nothing too alarming. Finally – a click at the door handle and the Captain emerges.

     “Leftenant” he says, gesturing for me to go back in. I hesitate a moment, then walk past the Captain – avoiding eye contact, of course. A composed look about my face and manners as I enter and he closes the door behind me.

     “What’s wrong?” the Commander asks. The Captain doesn’t know, makes an unsure face.

Entering the room, the Admiral is pouring himself a hardball. I arrive close enough, a hard knocking sound from my rubber heels. He gestures for me to take a seat.

     “Two enemy ships – one on each side – approaching quickly, both moving faster than your ship. What do you do, Leftenant?” the Admiral asks. God, I think, like a promotion board interrogation – prepare for the shouting…

     “Sir, the – “ I let out in a quick stammer. He turns to me, unimpressed. “I fire the side on the enemy ship that’s further behind first. It would give me more time to land a higher quantity of rounds.”

     Halveston walks over to a painting of ships at sea, motioning for me. Obliging, I walk to him and take a look for myself.

     “One-hundred-twelve guns” he says, messing with the cold glass in his hands, “twenty more crew that your ship currently.”

     I don’t say anything at first, assuming there is more. “A fine ship” I say inquisitively, “Sir…”

     “It’s my ship” he says, “and I want you to be her Commander. Promotion would be effective immediately with two years additional time served just for accepting. Mine is retiring soon, not wanting to pursue a Captaincy, as it was. If you do, however, Captaincy is assured within three years. Four tops – if you prove too good at it.”

     We talk a bit more. The cat was out of the bag, so I asked the hard questions. The long end of it was that the Captain, my Captain, didn’t get selected until after eight years of service as a Commander. Even still – he barely got selected as it turns out. The Admiral assured me I had time to think about it, though he needed an answer by tomorrow night. A hand shake, smiles between us, and I left the room.

     Upon exiting, I hear the Commander and Captain talking in low voices.

     “Probably gave him a week before he gets the boot” the Captain says, the Commander and he chuckling low before seeing me. They turn to me, though I give an expressionless look to the Commander for an awkward moment. The Captain and Commander exchange a glance between them, then back to me. We say Gentlemanly things as we make our way out for the night.

     “No” I say to their question as we traverse the lawn, “nothing to be concerned about, Sir. Just wanted to question me a little. That’s all, Sir.”

     That night I looked at myself in the mirror with my uniform on, hat under my arm. Three years a Commander…

————————

   “Welcome aboard, Commander” a midshipman salutes. A quick salute in return. The ship tosses line, calls and commands begin to fill the air. The bright planet disappearing from below us as we enter space – sails flapping, engines rearing, lines hoisting.

     “Your course, Commander” the navigator says, unrolling the charts to show the way. Some scratches on the chin, some markings on the document.

     “Leftenant!”

     “Aye, Sir” I say with a quick step and a salute. The Commander asks me some questions, wants my opinion. He always took it into consideration. We adjust course a little, take in some sail. The Captain thanks me for my work getting us underway and I reply in kind. A quick detour to the stores and I emerge with two beers. Walking over to Ensign Maury on the quarterdeck, I acknowledge his salute with a little nod. He reaches out as I toss one of the full beers over the side, a long drink of the other.

     Leaning over the side he watches, its contents and glass falling into the abyss – “Bollocks”

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