Agent of RuinBy Alice C. Aldridge
Page 3 of 7
A tight smile replaced Travis's usual dour expression as he recognized the
Wing First's ruse in switching on defensive screens without boosting his comm
signal. That should give the foolhardy youngster long enough to carry out his
plan without Pritchard's overbearing interference. It might also provide him
an excuse, albeit a flimsy one, should Pritchard demand a disciplinary board.
Even if the FSA didn't advocate innovative tactics, they should, at the very
least, acknowledge success as its own justification.|
Pritchard's face was florid, his lips trembling with indignation as he hit a small red button off one side of the instrument panel. Moments later a three-man security squad with fully charged weapons quick marched into the room to stand at attention just outside the simulator. Accompanying the security detail, LeClerc's expression was thunderous as he as he ordered the squad flatly, "Check your weapons and verify full power."
Hardened as he was to the usual harsh discipline within the ranks, Travis could hardly credit that the Academy would use such extreme measures to quash a potential outbreak of original thinking in one of their own cadets. Was unquestioning obedience the only military virtue currently acceptable to the Senior Echelon . . . with any hint of original thinking stamped out as ruthlessly as Blake's insurrection?
Smiling bitterly to himself, Travis strode over to the Commandant's side. "I don't think the Supreme Commander would approve of your action, LeClerc."
LeClerc glanced at him irritably. "This is an internal disciplinary matter, Commander, and no concern of yours."
"Servalan is always concerned with promising material within the cadet ranks."
"Promising?" LeClerc reacted incredulously. "Cadet Tarrant is a troublemaker, arrogant, insubordinate, and unconventional. I hardly believe the Supreme Commander would approve of such a disruptive influence within the officer corps."
Travis's feral gaze raked across the Commandant. "Oh, you'd be surprised at what she approves of, LeClerc."
The training scenario was winding down to its bloody, exhausted conclusion. Surprisingly, there were almost twice as many surviving Federation craft registering on the screens as predicted by the computer's tactical projection.
With a sour expression LeClerc stood beside the simulator as the dazed, sweaty trainees stumbled out, glancing nervously at the armed detail off to one side. Finally a tall angular cadet with dark curls that still managed to look disheveled despite the extremely short Academy cut strode out and the Commandant barked sharply "Cadet Tarrant! Stand to attention . . . right now!"
Del's flushed cheeks paled at the presence of the armed detail but he stood resolute even in the face of LeClerc's icy rage. Travis allowed himself a sneaking admiration for the pure brass balls on the boy.
"Do you have any last words, cadet, before I order your summary execution for gross insubordination and defiance of a superior officer . . . in the face of the enemy?"
Tarrant's voice was a cracked whisper, "Yes sir. The tactical formation that Major Pritchard ordered had a projected casualty rate upwards of 90 percent for the operation. I uncovered files in the archives that projected less than 50 percent casualties, while still achieving the tactical objective . . . destruction of the hive ship."
"What files?" LeClerc demanded harshly.
"The log of Phoenix Squadron," Travis answered low-voiced before Tarrant could speak. "His wing flew Rik Hunt's original tactics for the attack on the hive ship at Rusalka Prime."
LeClerc answered in a brittle tone, "Yes, and nearly all his squadron was lost in the same explosion that destroyed the aliens. Flamboyant theatrics are not an acceptable substitute for sound military strategy. Major Pritchard's plan maintained the squadron in precise formation for mutual fire support against the Thusok forces until they were able to attack the central hive ship."
"Judging by what I saw on screen, Pritchard's 'precise formation' had its ass caught in a meatgrinder with no way out. Without Tarrant's diversionary action, none of those wings would have survived long enough to reach the hive ship," Travis spat.
Pritchard sputtered in outrage at LeClerc's side. "This degree of insubordination-- disobeying a superior officer in the face of the enemy-- demands summary execution!"
"So you prefer an obedient dead Wing First over a survivor who exhibits adaptability and original thinking?" Travis's voice rang sarcastically.
"The Academy has no place for original thinkers," LeClerc answered in an icily correct voice."We do things by the book, by the rules, and by the numbers."
Travis sneered, "Which makes it so much easier for Graves Registration to fill out their casualty lists."
LeClerc stared at Travis for a long moment, as though seeing him for the first time; past the brash, uncouth facade to some deeper truth. He cleared his throat before turning back to the shaken cadet.
"Well . . . the boy did base his plan on a prior battlefield strategy, which could be considered a mitigating factor, despite his impulsive actions." His baleful glare impaled the youthful offender. "Of course, there will be a disciplinary hearing on your actual disobedience during the training scenario. Until then, you're confined to your barracks on bread and water rations except during class, drill, or simulator practice . . . or when marching your two extra hours of punishment drill daily for the next month."
Tarrant groaned to himself, almost wishing Commander Travis had not spoken up and allowed LeClerc to put him out of his misery earlier. At least the end would have been quick and relatively painless. With two extra hours of drill, on nothing but bread and water rations, he'd be dying by inches over the next month as he struggled to keep up with his classroom assignments, inspections and other duties.
To his surprise, the scarred officer spoke up again, his voice softly mocking, "I've got a better idea, Commandant. I'm stuck here, killing time lecturing your cadets on Urban Warfare, for another six weeks while Medical completes the cybernetic hookups to my shoulder. I'm not familiar with the Academy's schedule or physical layout. Why don't you assign him to me as my striker and guide dog until his disciplinary board convenes? That should keep both of us out of your hair."
LeClerc glared dourly at the Space Commander. He was hardly a paragon of military discipline for any of the Academy's students to emulate. But judging by the appalled expression on Tarrant's face, the cadet found the idea of serving as the Commander's menial and errand boy distasteful in the extreme. If nothing else, the arrangement might teach the arrogant young bastard a lesson in humility.
"Very well, Commander. Cadet Tarrant will serve as your striker until a disciplinary board rules on his actions today . . . and I wish you well of him."
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