Read me the story
The Joint Command meeting was the first opportunity for Klaros’ military leadership to discuss strategy. Now that the Lord Commander of the Second Legion was back from Hecht, they could begin figuring out how to clean up after what might have been the biggest military fuckup in human history—although the military was, naturally, attributing it to civilian contractors’ disregard for safety procedures. No one would ever know, and by now, blame was irrelevant.
The Supreme Commander had to be replaced as the first order of business. Senior Admiral Drell had been Acting Supreme Commander based on his status as the ranking surviving Command officer in Klarosian space, but now the Command Staff would be required to confirm that position. Tallis was the wild card. Lord Commander Taglev had died, along with the Supreme Commander, when the Conflagration had engulfed Jait Hurst, and Lord Commander Kestarrat had perished with the rest of the Home Legion’s High Command at Morj Alpha.
It had taken awhile to sort out the surviving chain of command for the First and Home Legions, but Garch Vardak of the Pykalt/Insystem regiment had been in line for promotion to Commander anyway, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for him to take over the Home Legion. There had been some back-and-forth among the surviving First Legion Command, but seniority had won out. It was just a lucky fluke that the Third Corps’ Commander Strun had been on his way back from an inspection tour of the maintenance depot at Marduk base.
Tallis was technically senior to Drell—his date of promotion was more than a year prior to the Senior Admiral’s. And the last Supreme Commander from Fleet had been Stabnov, of Mutiny infamy. Some senior Legion officers had been muttering about deciding Supreme Command “the old way,” and no one doubted that Drell would have no chance against Tallis on the takho, if it did come to a challenge.
“Are you going to take him?”
Grotal Ralin was one of the few people who could, by reason of long friendship as well as cold nerve, put such a question to the Lord Commander.
The two men had been reviewing the promotion lists for Second Legion senior ranks. Neither had slept much since arriving at Orbital Base One, the new location (by default) for the Military High Command of Klaros.
Tallis’ eyes glittered. “We really can’t afford self-indulgence in the High Command.”
Ralin barked a laugh. “How long has it been since you’ve had a good spar?”
“We were on our way to Hecht.” Tallis’ tone was dry.
“Well, the question remains. Even without a challenge, you probably have the support.”
“Can you see me as an Oligarch?”
Ralin grinned. “Someone’s got to do it.”
“I get more leverage by letting Drell have it.”
One of Ralin’s thick brows rose. “Leverage for what?”
“I can see an infinite number of strategy options that will make the level of pudu we are wading through deeper and hotter. How many potentially viable plans have you heard over the last few days?”
Ralin’s expression answered for him.
“I trust Drell to look good in the Supreme Commander’s uniform and keep the Civ and the Church off our backs. Especially if he knows he’s wearing it because I gave it to him. I do not trust Drell to manage any kind of operation that might be required to pull us out of the waste tank, assuming the Creator in His Infinite Mercy provides a feasible option.”
The Lord Commander glanced at the wall chrono. “All right, let’s get to the meeting.”
“Me?” Ralin blinked.
Tallis turned the notescreen he’d been noodling on. The final promotions list had an addition: Grotal Ralin, promoted General Hartman and appointed Chief of Staff to the Lord Commander.
“Ooh, a desk job. Just what I’ve always wanted,” he smirked.
“Enjoy it while you can.”
When they arrived at the Joint Command meeting, Drell was already there, seated in the Supreme Commander’s traditional place, but not wearing the uniform. He nodded to Tallis, warily, and got a noncommittal chin-dip in return.
Drell asked for reports. The meeting was about an hour old before someone seemed to recall the main order of business—Vardak, unsurprisingly. He grabbed the table baton, on the heels of a supply summary. Drell nodded to him calmly. “Lord Commander Vardak has the table.”
“Comrades, we have to ratify an Oligarch.” Vardak stared pugnaciously around the table as if expecting an argument.
There was a suppressed murmur from the lower table where the Generals, Admirals, and Commanders sat. Glances were exchanged, a good many eyes turned, overtly or covertly, in Tallis’ direction. He seemed unaware of the scrutiny.
“We should settle the matter, hrhrm…” Lord Commander Strun trailed off with an ambiguous throat-clearing. The wording might have been deliberately provocative, or simply infelicitous.
Drell nodded calmly. “Then it is time to appoint a Military Doyen. I suggest our Comrade, General Hartman Jamed Ursek.”
There was a pause. It was a good suggestion; when retired and reserve officers had been re-activated, Ursek had been one of the first to report. The ones poised to object, on principle, to anyone the Senior Admiral might have suggested, hesitated and lost their moment when Strun and Tallis signed their assent in the traditional way, pounding fists lightly on the table. Vardak hesitated a moment, then placed the table baton back in its place, and followed suit as a thudding chorus from the lower table ratified the choice.
As Ursek stood and walked to the high table, Drell rose from the Command Seat and took the Senior Admiral’s chair.
Ursek wasted no time. Standing behind the vacant Command Seat, he asked. “Who, by virtue of rank or by virtue of combat, rises to claim Supreme Command?”
There was a long, long pause. The Lords Commander and the Senior Admiral did not exchange any glances.
Someone at the lower table drew a deep breath, audible in the silence, and then the Senior Admiral stood. “I rise to claim Supreme Command, by virtue of rank.”
Almost every eye in the room was on Tallis. He continued to look blandly ahead at the lower table, catching no one’s eye and avoiding no one’s eye.
General Hartman Ursek glanced at him, then at each of the other Lords Commander in turn. He turned to Drell. “A claim is made, by virtue of rank. There are others here who might claim by virtue of rank. Do I hear any challenge?” He glanced over the Lords Commander again, allowing the silence to stretch for just the right number of seconds.
“There are no challenges to the claim by virtue of rank. Do I hear any endorsements?”
You might have been able to hear a dust mote settle, Ralin thought. He was afraid if he grinned, it might be heard and attract attention.
“The Second Legion endorses the Supreme Commander,” Tallis said matter-of-factly. A little sigh of tension releasing rippled through the room.
The other Lords Commander offered their endorsements, rather anticlimactically, and General Hartman Ursek pulled the empty Command Seat back. “The Lords Commander have endorsed, will the Joint Command acclaim?” He fixed the lower table with the gaze that had won him the nickname “Old Steeleye” when he’d been General Hartman of the Intel & Recon brigade. Fists hit the table in a ragged rhythm.
Drell stood, and walked back to the Command Seat, Acting no longer, but Supreme Commander by military law.
With all the headaches and appurtenances thereunto.