The Human Division #5:
Tales From the
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The Human Division
as a whole is dedicated to:
Yanni Kuznia and Brian Decker, two of my favorite people;
John Harris, for his wonderful cover art for this and other Old Man’s War books.
Additionally, this particular Episode is dedicated to:
Episode Five: Tales from the
“So, Captain Coloma,” Department of State Deputy Undersecretary Jamie Maciejewski said. “It’s not every starship captain who intentionally maneuvers her ship into the path of a speeding missile.”
Captain Sophia Coloma set her jaw and tried very hard not to crack her own molars while doing so. There were a number of ways she expected this final inquiry into her actions in the Danavar system to go. This being the opening statement was not one of them.
In Coloma’s head a full list of responses, most not in the least appropriate for the furtherance of her career, scrolled past. After several seconds, she found one she could use. “You have my full report on the matter, sir,” she said.
“Yes, of course,” Maciejewski said, and then indicated with a hand State Department Fleet Commander Lance Brode and CDF liaison Elizabeth Egan, who with Maciejewski constituted the final inquiry panel. “We have your full report. We also have the reports of your XO, Commander Balla, of Ambassador Abumwe, and of Harry Wilson, the Colonial Defense Forces adjunct on the
at the time of the incident.”
“We also have the report of Shipmaster Gollock,” Brode said. “Outlining the damage the
took from the missile. I’ll have you know she was quite impressed with you. She tells me that the fact that you managed to get the
back to Phoenix Station at all is a minor miracle; by all rights the ship should have cracked in half from material stresses during the ship’s acceleration to skip distance.”
“She also says that the damage to the
is extensive enough that repairs will take longer to make than it would take for us to just build an entire new Robertson-class diplomatic ship,” Maciejewski said. “It would possibly be more expensive to boot.”
“And then there is the matter of the lives you put at risk,” Egan said. “The lives of your crew. The lives of the diplomatic mission to the Utche. More than three hundred people, all told.”
“I minimized the risk as much as possible,” Coloma said.
In the roughly thirty seconds I had to make a plan,
she thought but did not say.
“Yes,” Egan said. “I read your report. And there were no deaths from your actions. There were, however, casualties, several serious and life-threatening.”
What do you want from me?
Coloma felt like barking at the inquiry panel. The
wasn’t supposed to have been in the Danavar system to begin with; the diplomatic team on it was chosen at the last minute to replace a diplomatic mission to the Utche that had gone missing and was presumed dead. When the
arrived they discovered traps had been set for the Utche, using stolen Colonial Union missiles that would make it look as if the humans had attacked their alien counterparts. Harry Wilson—Coloma had to keep in check some choice opinions just thinking the name—took out all but one of the missiles by using the
’s shuttle as a decoy, destroying the shuttle and nearly killing himself in the process. Then the Utche arrived and Coloma had no choice other than to draw the final missile to the
rather than have it home in on the Utche ship, strike it and start a war the Colonial Union couldn’t afford at the moment.
What do you want from me?
Coloma asked again in her mind. She wouldn’t ask the question; she couldn’t afford to give the inquiry panel that sort of opening. She had no doubt they would tell her, and that it would be something other than what she had done.
So instead she said, “Yes, there were casualties.”
“They might have been avoided,” Egan said.
“Yes,” Coloma said. “I could have avoided them entirely by allowing the missile—a Colonial Union Melierax Series Seven—to hit the Utche ship, which would have been unprepared and unready for the attack. That strike would have likely crippled the ship, if it did not destroy it outright, and would have caused substantial casualties, including potentially scores of deaths. That seemed the less advisable course of action.”
“No one disputes your actions spared the Utche ship considerable damage, and the Colonial Union an uncomfortable diplomatic incident,” Maciejewski said.
“But there still is the matter of the ship,” Brode said.
“I’m well aware of the matter of the
” Coloma said. “It’s my ship.”
“Not anymore,” Brode said.
“Pardon?” Coloma said. She dug her fingernails into her palms to keep herself from leaping across the room to grab Brode by the collar.
“You’ve been relieved of your command of the
” Brode said. “The determination has been made to scrap the ship. Command has been transferred to the port crew that will disassemble it. This is all standard practice for scrapped ships, Captain. It’s not a reflection on your service.”
“Yes, sir,” Coloma said, and doubted that. “What is my next command? And what is the disposition of my staff and crew?”
“In part, that’s what this inquiry is about, Captain Coloma,” Egan said, and glanced over at Brode, coolly. “It’s regrettable that you had to learn about the disposition of your ship in this way, in this forum. But now that you do know, you should know what we’re going to decide is not what we think about what you did, but where we think you should go next. Do you understand the difference here?”
“With apologies, ma’am, I’m not entirely sure I do,” Coloma said. Her entire body was coated in a cold sweat that accompanied the realization that she was now a captain without a ship, which meant in a very real sense she was no longer a captain at all. Her body wanted to shiver, to shake off the clamminess she felt. She didn’t dare.
“Then understand that the best thing you can do now is to help us understand your thinking at every step in your actions,” Egan said. “We have your report. We know what you did. We want a better idea of the why.”
“You know the why,” Coloma said before she could stop, and almost immediately regretted it. “I did it to stop a war.”
“We all agree you stopped a war,” Maciejewski said. “We have to decide whether how you did it justifies giving you another command.”
“I understand,” Coloma said. She would not admit any defeat into her voice.
“Very good,” Maciejewski said. “Then let’s begin at the decision to let the missile hit your ship. Let’s take it second by second, shall we.”
like other large ships, did not dock with Phoenix Station directly. It was positioned a small distance away, in the section of station devoted to repair. Coloma stood at the edge of the repair transport bay, watching crews load into the work shuttles that would take them to the
to strip the ship of anything and everything valuable or salvageable before cutting down the hull itself into manageable plates to be recycled into something else entirely—another ship, structural elements for a space station, weapons or perhaps foil to wrap leftovers in. Coloma smiled wryly at the idea of a leftover bit of steak being wrapped in the skin of the
and then she stopped smiling.
She had to admit that in the last couple of weeks she’d gotten very good at making herself depressed.
In her peripheral vision, Coloma saw someone walking up to her. She knew without turning that it was Neva Balla, her executive officer. Balla had a hitch in her gait, an artifact, so Balla claimed, of an equestrian injury in her youth. The practical result of it was that there was no doubt of her identity when she came up on you. Balla could be wearing a bag on her head and Coloma would know it was her.
“Having one last look at the
?” Balla asked Coloma as she walked up.
“No,” Coloma said; Balla looked at her quizzically. “She’s no longer the
. When they decommissioned her, they took her name. Now she’s just CUDS-RC-1181. For whatever time it takes to render her down to parts, anyway.”
“What happens to the name?” Balla asked.
“They put it back into the rotation,” Coloma said. “Some other ship will have it eventually. That is, if they don’t decide to retire it for being too ignominious.”
Balla nodded, but then motioned to the ship. “
or not, she was still your ship.”
“Yes,” Coloma said. “Yes, she was.”
The two stood there silently for a moment, watching the shuttles angle toward what used to be their ship.
“So what did you find out?” Coloma asked Balla after a moment.
“We’re still on hold,” Balla said. “All of us. You, me, the senior staff of the
. Some of the crew have been reassigned to fill holes in other ship rosters, but almost no officers and none of those above the rank of lieutenant junior grade.”
Coloma nodded. The reassignment of her crew would normally come through her, but technically speaking they were no longer her crew and she no longer their captain. Balla had friends in the Department of State’s higher reaches, or more accurately, she had friends who were assistants and aides to the department’s higher reaches. It worked out the same, informationwise. “Do we have any idea why no one important’s been reassigned?”
“They’re still doing their investigation of the Danavar incident,” Balla said.
“Yes, but in our crew that only involves you and me and Marcos Basquez,” Coloma said, naming the
’s chief engineer. “And Marcos isn’t being investigated like the two of us are.”
“It’s still easier to have us around,” Balla said. “But there’s another wrinkle to it as well.”
“What’s that?” Coloma asked.