“Explain to me, how did this happen?”
All of the officers present in crowded, plain room flinched at the politician’s words. His tone made it clear heads were going to roll.
Gritting his teeth in frustration, the ranking officer spoke up. “Sir, we haven’t had a chance to finish our post-action investigation.”
“Colonel Thibodeaux, DO NOT give me excuses! I want answers! Now!”
As the angry politician paced back and forth, the officers present considered their options. None of which looked promising.
The man stopped, adjusted the coat of his green silk, custom tailored suit and looked into the eyes of each officer present.
“You have five hours to provide me with an answer. One I can sell.”
Seething from the ill treatment meted out by the agitated politician, Thibodeaux protested. “Sir, Ambassador Clark, you can’t expect for the rebels just to give up.”
“I most certainly can, Colonel! You said Gallantia had been cleared!”
“No, Ambassador, I reported it was under Space Marine control. Active fighting had stopped. There is a difference.”
“And you, Colonel, seem to forget who is in charge of this peacekeeping mission! It’s not you military types!”
Thibodeaux’s face flashed red, his fists clinched. “Sir, military operations are best left to the military.”
Ambassador Clark eye’s widened in surprise. Nobody ever challenged him.
“Do you realize I can end your career this instant Colonel?”
Undeterred, Thibodeaux took one step closer to the politician. “Indeed I do. One message from you and my orders will be cut in seconds. It doesn’t change the situation Ambassador. The Space Marines should never have been pulled out. The Shore Patrol has no hope of policing without the Corp’s presence until the entire planet has been pacified and the enemy destroyed.”
Ambassador Clark rocked on his toes. His eyes narrowed as he ran his hand over his bald scalp. “You don’t seem to understand, Colonel. So I’m going to explain the facts to you. Citizens on the home worlds were informed the situation on Hofstra II is well in hand. Gallantia has been liberated and pacified. Any thing that contradicts that message is unacceptable!”
With the officer’s ears still ringing from his outburst, Ambassador Clark turned on his heel and left.
“I have a computer inside me?”
“Top of the line microcomputer. The power source will last for a hundred years before it needs to be replaced. It controls your eye, left hand and fingers on your right hand.”
My face must have communicated my despair over the news.
“It’s never easy to hear news like this Sergeant,” the doctor informed me. “There is some upside though. Your eye contains a digital camera. You can record up to about thirty minutes of audio and video, take still images and see in the infrared spectrum. For somebody in your line of work, I would imagine this would come in handy.”
Like that made it any easier to take.
“You can download the information using the built in wifi. You’ll receive the training you need for the process when you start your rehab.”
“Any other pleasant news for me today doctor?”
He smiled as he stood to leave. “Don’t break your right collar bone. That’s where your hardware is. Oh, it helps if you close your left eye and squint to get the HUD to appear in your new eye. You’ll get the hang of it though.”
I waited a few minutes after the doctor left to try and get out of my bed. It took a moment for my legs to feel more stable beneath me. I had to see for myself.
It took some effort to make it to the mirror on the wall over the sink in my room. I leaned over the sink, my new hand and fingers supporting the weight of my upper body. I finally looked up.
When the shakes stopped, I worked up the nerve to look a second time. It wasn’t the scar that was so bad. It ran from my scalp down my forehead and bisected my right eye before running down to my jaw. The surgeon’s had done a good job putting my face back together. The visiting doctor had even said they could lessen the appearance of my facial scar, possibly eliminate it all together.
It was the eye I that unnerved me.
A different shade of blue from my real eye caused the new one to have a surreal appearance. It bulged slightly more than it should, but considering the amount of technology crammed in the thing, I guess I shouldn’t complain.
I just didn’t like the idea of not being all me.
“How do things like this happen,” Clark raged, pacing in his office aboard the Alliance’s U.S.S. Thermopylae. His three aides stood in silence, waiting for the appropriate moment to flee or point the blame in a direction that would safeguard their careers.
“It’s the military, Ambassador. They don’t understand the pressure you’re under.”
Clarke stopped and looked appreciatively at the young Earth African intern. “Josephine, you couldn’t be more correct.”
Fearing a loss of status within the trio of aides, the Earth Asian spoke firmly. “You should demand a sacrifice from the military. An individual to put on display as an example of the incompetence of the military.”
“Of course, I’ve already informed those idiots as much,” Clark snapped at the aide.
“But sir, have you considered the response of the military for humiliating one of their own?”
Clark looked at the aide thoughtfully.
“Your point Xu?”
“Many of the officers in the peacekeeping detachment are from political families. Others are Academy graduates and well connected within the military’s political structure. It is one thing to demand a scapegoat, Ambassador. It is another to demand the wrong individual to fill that need.”
Clark sat down at his desk, lost in thought.
“I want a list of possible candidates in half an hour.”
Xu smiled, casting a satisfied glance at Josephine.
“Leave me, all of you.”
As ordered, the two males left quickly. Josephine lingered for a moment, smiling at the Ambassador.
“Are you sure there is nothing more I can do to be of service Ambassador Clark?”
“Close the door and lock it.”
Colonel Thibodeaux’s face clouded as he read the report. He looked up from the tablet and looked squarely at the Major standing before him.
“Is this correct?”
“Yes, Colonel. I’ve gone over the blast site myself. Watched the satellite imagery.”
Thibodeaux leaned back in his chair, returning his gaze to the tablet.
“Nine SPs dead, hundreds of civilians dead, an entire square block destroyed in the marketplace and one injured SP.”
“Major, what concerns me is the fact this survivor, an experienced NCO, dictated an after action report. Have you read it?”
“Colonel, as much as I hate to say it, I have. What’s more, I agree.”
“This Sullivan is experienced. Good Space Marine. Better SP. Kilgore was assigned to Sullivan’s detachment, specifically so Sullivan could babysit the Lt. until he could change his own diapers.”
“So you agree with Sullivan’s assessment?”
“Yes, sir. Kilgore should have listened to him and relocated the checkpoint to a safer distance. At a minimum, a company of Marines left as a rapid response force. Two or three snipers located strategically with the SPs acting as eyes, the bomber might have been taken out in time. Irregular sweeps by Marines with two or three SPs escorting, showing the flag sir. It would have lessened the likelihood the rebels would have tried this.”
Thibodeaux tossed the tablet on his desk. “You know that, and I know that, Major. The problem is the idiot politicians back on Earth don’t, and worse, Ambassador Clark is even more clueless.”
Standing, Clark made his way over to the lone window in his office, a five-centimeter thick panel of projectile proof, heat resistant glass.
“Tell me about this Kilgore.”
“Sir, he’s going to be a problem. Academy graduate. Father is the Ambassador to Raylon IV. Mother is the heiress to the Bloneheim fortune. Up until this, has a decent service record. He’s going to be a fine officer, in spite of his family and connections.”
“So that’s our choice is it Major? Destroy the career of an NCO who is very good at what he does, the kind of NCO who gets things done. Or we can destroy our own careers for pointing the finger at the individual responsible.”
“I’m afraid that is what it amounts to sir.”
Thibodeaux sighed, his shoulders sagging. “Not much of a choice is it, Major.