First Lieutenant Thomas Klingman couldn't concentrate on deciphering what all the data and the AI controlled networking link ups were trying to tell him. He was too busy killing 'dickheads', and searching the holo map of the planet for someplace where he could gather his men back together again so that they could set up a portable transporter field and boogie on off this Sa'arm infested rock.
He knew it would be hard to find a place that they knew they could defend for the ninety seconds it would take to set up the field, extract all his men, and plant a quick explosive charge that he knew would be positively guaranteed to take away evidence of transporter technology before the 'dickheads' could find some way to disable it.
He'd already lost nine of his people, nine out of thirty two, on this cluster fuck of a mismanaged mission. Captain Erickson had bought it on the third day, leaving him and Lieutenant Andrews to try to pull the plan back together.
Well, they'd finally managed to get what they'd come for, even though Tom truly believed they'd paid too high a price for it. After they had located the lost lap pack, and had popped a field to send it back up to the Sir Percival, their ride back home, which was now standing just far enough off to be able to receive comm data, and to lend some tactical support, if it was needed, but too far away to stir up any interest from the 'dickheads'.
This had always been a weakness of those damn Panther Class assault shuttles. If you lose one, and the auto self destruct fails to properly detonate, someone has to go down and make sure that sensitive technology doesn't fall into enemy hands. The Sa'arm would have loved to get their claws on an intact Confederacy lap pack. They could steal someone else's technology just fine, though they weren't much for innovation.
"Andy, I think I might have found a place we can hold them off long enough to get set up and get ourselves off this rock. Look at Charlie sector, E2-22H. See that little ravine leading up to that burnt out complex? Grab all your people and meet me there in ten."
"I've got it, Tom, but I don't think we can get there in ten. We're still a little busy where we're at. I think we need to bring in some air support to suppress what the 'dickheads' are trying to do, and to help me make sure nothing gets set up to delay me when I'm falling back to Charlie sector."
Not for the first time, Tom wished that Lieutenant Andrews would stop trying to incur major risks to solve minor problems. That's all they needed now, to lose another Panther by bringing it down to a live fire zone.
"Andy, I want you to pack it on out of there, do it now, do you copy me? Disengage, and meet me at that ravine in ten. Klingman out."
Tom heard the double click that told him his order had been received and understood. He knew the junior officer's wardroom would be frosty when they got back to their space taxi, but it couldn't be helped. It had fallen to him to baby sit Andrews after Captain Erickson got popped. None of the intel he'd been getting had made him believe that Andy was facing nearly as much opposition as he and his people were.
One advantage the ground troops had over the 'dickheads' was with their ability to react quickly to changing circumstances. The Sa'arm were plodders, in the sense that they needed hive consensus before altering their course. True, they could marshal that consensus, almost in a single blink of an eye, but they still had to set up their troop dispositions to implement that consensus, which gave the Space Marines a big tactical advantage.
Tom had already lost enough men, and had expended just about as much time as he was willing to give this mission. They'd gotten what they came for and it was now time to disengage and get the hell out of there. He'd hated to pull that rank crap on Andy, but he hadn't wanted to spend the time he knew it would have taken to talk the man out of his unwarranted fears.
In a race between Space Marines and 'dickheads', one Human mind, controlling a strategic withdrawal, with the help of AI intel, was worth how ever many body's making up the single hive mind. Tom knew he could zig and zag faster than the Sa'arm could change course to intercept him.
When he and his remaining troops reached the ravine, and had started setting up their transporting field, Lieutenant Andrews and his troops were still half a klick away. Instead of falling back meaningful distances at a time, and then setting up their little delaying ambushes, Andy was attempting to sneak away from having any contact with the enemy at all. According to everything that Tom had been taught in training, this was almost the worst tactical decision he could have selected. Tom turned to Gunny Fallbrook.
"Gunny, you think you can go out and help Lieutenant Andrews bring his troops in? Take Considine with you. Make sure he takes his little bag of tricks. While you lead the rest of them back to the promised land, he can make the 'dickheads' pay a price for trying to follow too closely. Try to get it done without ruffling any officer's feathers, but get it done in any case. You reading me, Gunny?"
"Aye aye, sir, no ruffled feathers. I've got Martinez and "the Dago" back in the flap there, setting up a few surprises for the 'dickheads', just in case they stop believing they should keep waiting for reinforcements."
Tom watched the sergeant head off with Corporal Considine. Now that he was almost certain that second platoon would soon be joining them in the ravine, Tom got back to setting the charge that would detonate as soon as they were out of there. He looked behind him to make sure that Martinez and DiMarco were nearly finished with setting up their little ambush. Tom knew that the whole ravine area would soon be a killing zone, right after those two got done mining the area and arming all their lethal surprises just before they entered the transporter field.
The extraction back to the Sir Percival went off without a hitch. Tom didn't say anything about it, but, he made a mental note that Lieutenant Andrews had been the third trooper through the field, once the extraction began. Tom noticed that the two senior noncom's had taken note of that fact as well. With the exception of Martinez and DiMarco, Tom was the last to step into the transporter field. He's had to order Gunny Fallbrook to precede him, but he'd wanted to make his own point about how he felt line officers should comport themselves. The two demo guys had to be last, because it took both of them to arm their explosive charges.
The battalion had been away from Journey, their home planet, for almost six months, before they were finally ordered back to their base for some resupply, replacement troops, R&R, advanced training, and to submit to a detailed debriefing for any engagements or enemy contact made during their deployment.
Tom looked at his home planet as it appeared on the viewing screen set up in the officer's mess. He'd been given temporary command of the assault company, after reporting back aboard the Sir Percival. His only command duties since then had been the routine clerical functions associated with the onboard administration of the company. He did attend two strategy meetings, but his company was not involved in either information gathering sortie. Tom knew that he'd be relieved of command, just as soon as they debarked to the Marine base at Peaceful.
Back at the base, after first handing over command of the company to Captain Carstairs, the new C.O., Tom had signed out on a fourteen day leave. It was good to be home, but it was even better knowing that he would soon be back with his family.
Tom knew he was in the minority by thinking of his household staff as his family. The Confederacy wasn't very subtle about wanting to discourage close emotional ties between the military and their concubines. Concubines were for procreation and for the sexual comfort of the fighting forces. The last thing the Confederacy wanted was to have their troopers upset by, or worrying about, the members of their household they were frequently leaving behind.
Already, several colony planets had been destroyed by the Sa'arm, killing upwards of a hundred thousand concubines and their dependent children each time. It was important that incidents such as these didn't destroy the fighting capabilities of the military units whose colony planets had been thus affected. The individual members of the military were aware of this bias against emotional attachment, but, were also aware that there were wide variances in the degree to which each individual military person adhered to this unstated bias.
Tom adhered not at all. As far as he was concerned, they were his family, and he felt a strong sense of love for all of them. He couldn't wait to be back with them, to regain the lifestyle he'd had before deployment. Scuttlebutt had it that the battalion would remain in port for a minimum of four months, time enough to replenish supplies and repair or replace any equipment that had been destroyed or damaged by their just completed mission.
After getting a ride off base, and over to the main residential part of Peaceful, Tom was only minutes away from seeing his family for the first time in more than six months. He'd already spoken with Cheryl, and Glenda, right after he transported down to Battalion headquarters, two days before. They knew he'd be coming home, just as soon as the company's new C.O. had reported in, or as soon after that as he could manage to get his leave request approved and then sign out on it.
Tom had six concubines, Cheryl, Glenda, Jackie, Kathy, Ken and Bob, as well as a thirteen year old who he planned to make his concubine just as soon as her next birthday rolled around. To make room for her, since he was only authorized six, either Ken or Bob would need to be released back to the Civil Service center. Tom wasn't sure yet which one it would be. While he'd been away, several ideas had occurred to him, and he wanted to first discuss each of them with Cheryl, to get her take on what she thought was the best way for them to proceed.
He was less than a quarter mile from his home when his personal AI informed him that his leave had been canceled, and he was ordered to report back to the base for a formal debriefing on the incident that had occasioned the loss of Captain Erickson, and the deaths of sixteen enlisted members of the company.
Tom was surprised that his leave would be interrupted to go back over information that he'd already given at the time of his initial debriefing, right after returning to the Sir Percival, only minutes after their extraction from the planet. As far as he was concerned, he'd told them everything he knew at the time. It wasn't that he objected to having to go over all the same ground again, but he thought there was nothing so critical that it couldn't have waited until after he'd had time to spend with his family.
Fifteen minutes after being notified that he was to immediately return to base, Tom reported back into company headquarters, only to be informed, at that time, that pending an official inquiry into allegations made about his conduct during the incident at Sarcom III, he was to report to his on base living quarters, and to consider himself under house arrest, until relieved of such status by competent authority.
Tom went to his on base quarters and had his personal AI look into what had occasioned such an unexpected event. As far as he knew, until now, no one had questioned any of the events that took place after he'd assumed command when he'd been notified of Captain Erickson's death. It had been Lieutenant Andrews who'd first made him aware that the Captain had gotten himself and the troopers he was with capped, when the five of them got pinned down after he encountered some curious 'dickheads' when he and those four other troops were covering one of the most Northerly grids of their search pattern.
Andy had told him that he and his search team had gone looking for the Captain, after he failed to reply to Andy's attempt to contact him to make his progress report on the area he'd been assigned to search.
Since Tom was senior in date of rank, it fell to him to take over command of the company. It had taken them another two days of searching before they'd come across the intact lap pack that had survived the botched self destruct mechanism on the downed Panther assault vehicle. Getting away from the area, after sending the lap pack back off planet, had been a near thing.
Several times both platoons had ended up in pitched firefight's when they ran into heavy concentration's of massed 'dickhead's' who were probably searching for what the Space Marines had already found. Tom had lost nine good men in those pitched battles. He'd gone back over the events of that nine day scramble, and had come up with nothing else he might have done to lessen the casualties they'd suffered. Andy had twenty seven troops, including himself left, after the deaths of the Captain and four other troopers. Later, he had suffered three more deaths, but they hadn't been engaging with the enemy to anywhere near the extent that Tom's platoon had.
As far as Tom could determine, from what his personal AI could find, there weren't any allegations being lodged against him, or any negative claims about his conduct that anyone else had made. He'd done his duty to the best of his ability. He certainly hadn't shirked any of his duties, or taken any steps to endanger his troops needlessly. His thoughts were disturbed by an insistent knocking at the door to his room.
"Hey, LT, a few of us were just hearing about what's been happening to you. It sounds to Gunny Callahan and me like someone's been trying to protect his own skinny ass by trying to throw yours into the fire first. Mouse told me, strictly on the "qt", that his little boy wonder was showing a lot of yellow right after the Captain bought it on our third day out there on Sarcom III. Seems like at least two of the troops that were out there with the Captain when he got hit, later tried to make contact with Lieutenant Andrews, maybe even asked him to send over some reinforcements, which we know he never sent. Now he's been claiming that he and the guys that were with him were trying to get there in time, but they were just too late. He's also been saying that you're the reason why he couldn't get there in time, because he says the Captain was worried about you, and had asked him to keep his eye on you, in case you messed up or some other self serving bull shit like that."
Tom stared at Gunny Fallbrook, his trusted platoon sergeant, in disbelief over what he'd just been told. He knew that each officer's personal AI would have a complete record of everything in the way of radio communications in or out, as well as voice recordings of any personal conversations the officer might have had. There was no way that any of that data would implicate Tom in any wrongdoing.
On the day in question, Lieutenant Andrews had been over in the same quadrant with the Captain. Tom, and the whole of first platoon had been searching the Eastern area of the grid, at least fifteen or more klicks away from where second platoon had been conducting their own search. The first contact he'd had from Andy was him reporting in that the Captain had just got taken out with those four other guys. All the data from both men's AI's had been downloaded into the Battalion's data dumps and retransmitted back to headquarters at least a month before they returned to their home base.
It took two days before the board of inquiry was formally convened. Tom found himself being sworn in before being questioned extensively about the chronology of the reported events leading to the deaths of one officer and sixteen enlisted personnel of the Marine assault company. He gave his testimony over a period of two and a half hours, answering as honestly as he knew how to, but often having to query his personal AI for some forgotten details as to the order, and the locations, of the nine fatalities from his platoon.
"Lieutenant, you state that you lost three men while initially preparing to fall back to rendezvous with Lieutenant Andrews platoon, one day after recovering the missing lap pack and transmitting it back to your assault ship. Was there any particular reason why you didn't transport yourself, and your then fully intact platoon, at the same time you sent off the lap pack?"
"Yes sir, Lieutenant Andrews had earlier informed me that the portable transporter field enabling device he carried might have been damaged, and that he was reluctant to chance setting it up, due to what he felt might be risks associated with it failing to operate as it should. He said he didn't have the confidence in it that he would have if it hadn't already been damaged."
"Did he happen to tell you what manner of damage his enabling device might have suffered?"
"No sir, only that it had been damaged."
"You are aware that the unit in question was inspected after your extraction was accomplished, and that no damage was noted?"
"Yes, sir. Lieutenant Andrews was suspicious that it might have been though. It was his judgment call to make."
"That's what we're convened here to decide, Lieutenant, whether it was a judgment call on his part, or whether you or he needlessly caused the loss of life of twelve enlisted men. We'll be the ones deciding that, not you."
"Now, getting back to the next loss of life. You stated that Private Gillespie and Corporal Miscjeweriwitz both were lost when you got caught in a flanking maneuver on your seventh day down on Sarcom III, is that right?"
"Yes sir, seventh day. We lost "Mishy" first, Corporal Miscjeweriwitz, but this was earlier, when we were fighting our usual rear guard action. We were moving to the West, fighting just enough to slow them down before booby trapping the area and moving away from them. We were heading the way we wanted, and keeping the Sa'arm far enough back that we were in no danger of having them overwhelm us with their superior numbers. Textbook hit and run action, Sir. Private Gillespie got hit later in the day, several hours after the Corporal, sir. I wouldn't say we got outflanked either sir, more like we turned in one direction and happened onto a whole new bunch of 'dickheads' who were probably out there searching through the strewn wreckage of that Panther that got knocked down. Rather than try to engage them sir, we turned around and headed in a more Southeasterly direction, trying to go around them if we could. When Private Gillespie got hit, it was a few minutes after we'd started heading off in that Southeasterly direction. It was probably from that same bunch of 'dickheads' who'd been following behind us since we'd run into them, at least two days before that."
"On the eighth day, one day before you joined forces with Lieutenant Andrews and performed your troop extraction, you lost four more of your platoon, and Lieutenant Andrews lost three more of his. What can you tell us about how that came about?"
"I don't think the two platoon's were part of the same action, sir. I heard from Lt. Andrews that he'd engaged the enemy and had suffered heavy casualties. I didn't find out it was only three troops he'd lost until after he joined up with us and we'd transported out together. I can tell you about the people I lost that day though, because two of them got hit less than five feet away from where I was standing at the time, Private's Cunkle and Garson. Both were taken out at exactly the same time by one of those pop and drop buzz saws the 'dickhead's' are trying to make work. Corporal Ayers and Private Julian bought it maybe a minute later, when we ran into a little ambush that could possibly be called a flanking maneuver. I think it was more a case of us making another turn trying to put some hills between us and them, and them having the idea first that they should take the high ground before we took it. Still, to do that, they almost had to have flanked our left side, so, no matter what you call it, Ayers and Julian are dead, sir."
"At the time these twelve men were killed, were you not in overall command of the company?"
"Yes sir, I was, but my platoon was still ten or more klicks from Lieutenant Andrew's platoon. I was relying on him, since he was right there with his people to make any decisions on the spot, sir. He would make periodic reports back to me, but, other than both of us trying to find a good safe spot where we could count on defending it while we prepared ourselves for transporting back to the ship, you could say that we were really two separate and autonomous units."
"Are you claiming that you had no connection with the death of those three soldiers in second platoon, Lieutenant Klingman?"
"No sir. They were men under my command at the time, sir. I'm saying I was not in any position to have prevented their deaths, sir. I had my hands full attempting to bring the people with me through. The company lost seventeen people, sir. I had a connection with the death of all of them. That isn't to say I didn't do all I knew how to do to prevent as many from dying as I could. We all did. For every one that died, there were almost three of us who didn't. I can't take credit for that, but saving as many of us as we could, that was our primary mission, once we had recovered and sent back the lap pack. In light of our original orders, I think we accomplished as much as could reasonably be expected, sir."
The questions being directed at him had gotten increasingly accusatory as the Board of Inquiry developed. By the time he finished his final explanation of his actions, Tommy felt like he was being accused of having been guilty and culpable in the deaths of all seventeen members of the company that had been lost.
"Lieutenant Klingman, this Board of Inquiry wants to thank you for your appearance before it today, and for the open candor with which you addressed all our questions. Please bear in mind that the Board has reached no conclusions at this time, and that you are to remain on base until such time as the Board of Inquiry dismisses you from further testimony. Is that clear?"
"Very well, you are excused. On your way out, would you please ask Lieutenant Andrews to come back in?"
Tom spent two more days and nights being confined to his quarters on base, before he was formally notified that he was dismissed from the Board's control, and that he could once again sign himself back out on the fourteen days of leave he'd previously been granted.
This time, Tom went to the base motor pool and hitched a ride all the way to his pod's front opening, wanting to make damn sure that he got to see his family without fail. His homecoming welcome, too long delayed, was, nevertheless, just as sweet and warm as he'd hoped it would be.
He'd found out, from Cheryl, that Gunny Fallbrook had happened to stop by his pod and mentioned what was holding up Tom's leave. His whole family was worried, and curious of what it was that Tom was being accused of.
Science Fiction /