SSG "Echo" Baker had, he felt, an unfortunate knack of finding himself doing favours for just the wrong people. Obviously, as a senior NCO of many years standing - more decades than he liked to think, he'd say if asked - he had perfected the art of invisibility with regard to a certain class of officer, but he did have a certain fatal weakness: Women. Specifically, attractive women - and the SSG was a man of catholic tastes in that regard - had always been able to wrap him round their little fingers.
And, at the moment, this little failing was looming large in his consciousness, the reason being that he was reading an invitation from a woman he should probably have regarded as his nemesis, one CDR Dianna Langton, Naval Intelligence, with whom he'd had dealings in the past. Not that she was in his line of command - god save him from that ever being the case - but at various times, for various reasons, she had appeared in his life and the results were inevitably, dumbly predictable. It was just a shame she was such a bloody stunner, he felt, even as he was sub-vocalising a reply, agreeing, despite himself, to her latest suggestion of a meeting ... to discuss a job he 'might' find interesting, somewhere called Petro-something or the other...
Petrovastan, as the colony was now so widely known that its official designation was largely confined to databases and routers, was an odd place. That it was rapidly filling up with researchers and theoreticians was widely held to be responsible for this, but anyone digging a little deeper soon found considerably stranger things going on - such as a Planetary Governor who had deliberately recruited and enabled a revolutionary opposition.
SSG Baker, who had dug deep - very deep indeed, given his clearances and his contacts - knew all this and, nursing a stiff daiquiri in a bar on the moon's Andromeda Base tried not to let it worry him. Instead, he concentrated on the much more attractive prospect that was Dianna Langton, rather fetchingly turned out - presumably for his benefit - not in uniform but in a shocking pink lycra sheath ... Which, he felt, struggling to concentrate on matters in hand, contrasted rather wonderfully with her ebony skin ... and revealed subtle glimpses of...
He became aware of a silence around them and realised that his 'date' had finished whatever she'd been saying and was now looking at him expectantly. Clearly, he was expected to respond ... but he had no idea what she'd been talking about. He did his best, a considerable experience of talking to officers - though not usually litheley sexy ones - eventually providing him with a stock response which seemed suitable.
"Well, ma'am," he found himself saying, "if that's your considered opinion..."
Dianna positively beamed at him - at him - and said with an exuberance he wished he could bottle,
"Oh great! So you'll go?"
Go he thought, go where? Oh, ye gods ... he hadn't just agreed to go to bloody Petrovastan ... had he?
Even when much of the bureaucracy is handled by intelligent machines, even when brain-dead clerks have no way of misreading, misinterpreting or simply mislaying commands, military orders take time to come through. For SSG Baker, this was almost a period of rest and relaxation, even as he was beating into shape the under-performing crews of a couple of Castle class corvettes, but he knew it couldn't last, knew that the Curse of Langton was still in play...
And, so disengaging himself from his favourite concubine, Sandra, one morning, it was with a premonition of dread inevitability that he opened the e-mail from Fleet Ops and felt nothing but doom when he learnt he was to report to some sort of Psychological Evaluation specialist for 'assessment for special duties'.
One corridor is very similar to any other corridor when you come down to it, and SSG Baker had been in many, in his day, seemingly always waiting for some useless arsehole to 'interview' him. OK, so this corridor was on the moon, so the view from the window - or more probably, screen - was marginally more interesting than a similar scene of the butt end of Norfolk, Virginia, but ... These things never worked out well, he knew.
So he wasn't in the best of moods when the door finally opened and he was ushered into a generic interview room by a guy he immediately classified as a spotty adolescent. OK, so the kid had taken his mods, looked like an authoritative, slightly greying at the temples forty-something, but ... nah, this was a boy, quite probably a junior corporate psychologist before his Extraction, and consequently something beneath SSG Baker's dignity to voluntarily deal with.
Except that he was an officer, of course, and thus required care, if not actual respect. So he sat himself down, as requested, and waited for the worst. It wasn't a long wait, the kid starting out fairly quickly for his type - another sign of inexperience - and even began by attempting to justify himself.
"Sergeant," he said, just possibly registering the chilly hauteur of his latest victim, "I'm Major Montague Ffipps-Smythe, and I just want to run through a few things with you prior to authorising your transfer, if that's OK with you."
SSG Baker limited to a monosyllabic 'sir' and Montague, recognising that this was all the response he was going to get, continued, not quite as flustered as Baker had hoped.
"Well, jolly good. Right. In the good old days, of course, I'd be asking you to fill in a bundle of questionnaires at this point, probably take a day or two to process them, too, of course, but now, well, I have your CAP scores here to hand, so, well ... it's a bit of time saved, what? A bit more time to get out there and biff the Swarm and all that, eh?"
SSG Baker, who had his own opinion of Major Ffipps-Smythe's ability to swat a fly, let alone give the dickheads a good 'biffing', maintained a diplomatic silence. And so the officer grade arsehole prattled on.
"Of course, I also have your military records - and jolly meritorious they are too, may I say - but its the CAP we'll be focusing on, what? So lets have a look at some of these figures, see where the jolly old metrics take us, eh?"
He did something complicated with the terminal in front of him - SSG Baker suspected it was pretty simple, given that he succeeded, but he made it look complicated - and there, projected or presented on a convenient blank wall appeared the sergeant's CAP score, broken down to the minutest level of detail.
This, SSG Baker found interesting, never having bothered to drill down into his own score before. Not that it was a huge surprise - his over all score of 6.9, with the positive bias accruing from his long military score and frankly rampant libido, meant that other areas had to be deficient. None of which meant that he was remotely comfortable watching this English whacko dissecting the figures in front of him. And drawing, frankly, some very odd conclusions.
"This area here, d'y'see," he was saying, pointing an imaginary swizzle stick at the wall, "this is very interesting. Oh, yes, indeed - high scores for leadership, independent thinking, all that sort of malarkey, while over here again ... oh, look, its gone green, how jolly convenient ... quite exceptional scores for discipline and the ability to apply authority. Which last factor - and I'll let you into a little secret here - well, that's why your name came out of the hat for this particular little jobby. What do you think of that, eh?"
SSG Baker didn't think a lot of it, if he was honest, wondering what the fucking jesus this cretin was going on about. Chrissakes, he knew all this: He'd been CPO on more warships - and in more wars - than than this motile turd of a headshrinker could even imagine. Of course he was disciplined, of course he could 'apply authority' - by tone of voice, laser rifle or a convenient pipe wrench, if necessary, but ... where was this heading?
Major Ffipps-Smythe didn't give a lot of time to wonder about this, 'letting the cat out of the bag', as he'd probably have called it, almost immediately.
"Thing is, of course, these scores are also very much - very much, I should say - officer standard and that's an interesting point, from where I'm sitting, eh? Thirty years in our colonial cousin's Navy, not a few decorations for valour and diligence accumulated in that time and yet you never applied for a commission, hmm? Why was that, exactly, do you think?"
SSG Baker could have told him that with practised ease, but instead chose to focus on the numbers on the wall. He made a bit of a show of standing up and stomping over to the display - not a projection, then, given the lack of shadows - and took not a little satisfaction in observing the 'Major' involuntarily cringe away from him. Enjoying the moment, he paused longer than strictly necessary, finally waving a finger at another set of numbers entirely. Gratifyingly, the supervising AI picked up on the gesture and the relevant figures were highlighted in their turn, this time in a fairly lurid orange.
"Perhaps, Sir," he said, as venomously as he felt prudent, "you might also like to ... contemplate these data, here. Not an ideal illustration, I'm afraid... Sir ... but then, as far as I'm able to judge, CAP scores don't have specific elements relating to 'tolerance of bureaucracy' or 'loyalty to whom'. I never applied for a USN commission because I knew damn well that they'd never give me one. I, Sir, am an NCO and, at least in my opinion, a bloody good one. I like managing men, I like training them to fight and fighting alongside them. I even like making sense of the incomprehensible bullshit that comes down from above and doing something useful with it. I am, Sir, a PO1 - Staff Sergeant, these days - and fucking proud of it... Sir..."
Which, he felt, was a good speech, quite possibly the best he'd delivered to anyone except a bunch of his cronies in a bar, and he wasn't particularly bothered that he'd so blatantly sworn at an 'officer'. Not that that little transgression appeared to have registered with the Major. In fact, the whole thing seemed to have passed him by entirely, as he carried on regardless...
"I'm not sure I see your point, Staff Sergeant, although your loyalty to your men - and your current duties - undoubtedly shine through, doncha know. Quite, quite, creditable, in fact. I shall make a note to that affect on your file, I can assure you, but, in the interim, I am pleased to say, the assignment for which you have been proposed quite clearly requires an officer - the numbers are indisputable - while your own data - those numbers again, who'd have guessed it - quite clearly show that you are entirely qualified to take on the role.
"So, congratulations, Sergeant - or should I say, Lieutenant - and I'm sure you'll receive the appropriate orders in due course.
"And, umm, do please close the door on the way out, there's a good chap..."
Concubines Sandra and Elaine did their considerable best to relax him, but SSG Baker - if the rank still applied - woke, next morning, an uptight if exhausted man. And not a man all that surprised to receive orders, nor to find that these orders required him to relocate himself and his family to a system reference that he knew to be Petrovastan by first available transport, promotion - fuck it - effective on arrival. He stared at the screen long after he'd read the thing, wondering whatever happened to, god help him, officer training and then wondering just how insane this particular colony actually was.
He was still trying to get his head around the situation when another message arrived, this one short and to the point ... and from Dianna Langton. Would he like to meet for a drink, later? Damn right he would...
There weren't a lot of bars in Andromeda Base, considering the number of personnel routinely transiting through the place, and so they met at the one they'd used before. He had a daquiri, of course, she a martini. One difference was that he'd brought Sandra and Elaine along - presumably to keep his big brain on track - and a second was that, this time, SSG Baker was hopping mad.