15 March, Y175
"What is hidden here?" Marine Lieutenant Rakarra asked, removing his eyeglasses and dropping them on the Brigadier's desk as he gestured at the mission orders.
"I do not understand your question," the Brigadier replied.
"Where is the other boot?" the Lieutenant asked, shaking the mission orders vertically, perpendicular to the desk, as if expecting something to fall from between the pages.
"What boot?" the Brigadier asked. "Did you have some question about your orders?"
"No disrespect, Brigadier," Rakarra said soothingly. "I simply want to know: What truth lies behind your words?"
"You question my honor?" the Brigadier bristled.
"Not in the least," Rakarra replied. "Brigadier, you know that I respect you as a commander and soldier, but when you look at me, you see a face covered in fur and you think I am ... unsophisticated. I am not.
"Nothing in these orders is a lie, but not all of the truth is here. I know that there is more to it. I can feel that this ship is now moving at a faster speed than it ever has, and friends in the engineering section tell me that it will take a month to repair the damage done to the engines in the last hour. We are going somewhere, and we are going there as fast as this ship can move. If you're going to put the fleet's primary commando cruiser out of commission, this mission is more important than any I have ever seen."
"The orders convey no such information," the Brigadier said evenly. "All missions are vital to the Empire."
"This one is different," Lieutenant Rakarra replied. "The orders do not convey any information other than for me to ready my troops for transfer to another ship and to take equipment for any and every contingency. I presume that sealed mission orders will be issued when I am on the other ship?"
"Indeed," the Brigadier said. "Do you have any question about the orders you do have? Other matters require my attention."
"On the contrary, Brigadier, nothing except this mission requires your attention, and we both know it," Rakarra smiled. "To repeat, I am not unsophisticated, nor am I stupid. Now, answer my questions. There is far more to these orders and this mission than the documents state. Not to imply disloyalty, but you have used my company as your suicide squad for the last six months, and I have seen 80% of my people become battle casualties, although we succeeded in every mission. And we both know why you have done this."
"Mind your words, Lieutenant," the Brigadier warned.
"I shall speak openly, Sir," Rakarra said firmly, "and you shall grant me that. You have tried as hard as you can to get my entire company killed without openly giving us an obviously insane mission, one that would lead to questions of your judgment. You have given us inadequate support, insufficient supplies, no replacements, no promotions, no transfers.
"Now, you give us another mission, with no information, and along with it there is this ..." the Lieutenant gestured to the last page of the orders, "a written promise that if the mission is completed successfully, we will all be sent to Walkuria, not to form a new company, but as permanent training cadre, never to face combat again. And you had it signed by an Imperial Paladin because you knew that I would not believe you.
"This would not be the first time you promised to rotate my company out of combat and it would not be the first time that military exigencies made that promise impossible for you to keep. This is, however, the first time you needed me to believe you. To repeat my question, what truth lies behind your words?"
"You speak with insolence, Lieutenant!" the Brigadier snapped. "I can have you sent to the agonizer booth until your brain melts from the pain."
"You could have done that six months ago when your nephew died by my side," Rakarra roared. "You won't do it now ... cannot do it now ... because we both know that whatever this mission is, I am the only one who has a chance of success. Not the only one in the Empire, but the only one available. To repeat my question, what truth lies behind your words?"
"You have never spoken to me this way before," the Brigadier said. "Are you so sure of my need for you now?"
"Yes," Rakarra answered. "I took command of your nephew's company, and I have accepted every suicidal and high-risk mission you have assigned me. I have accepted your lack of support. I have done so without question, not because I feared arrest, but because I am a soldier, as were my sire and grand-sire before me. My grand-sire was the son of an Imperial Marine and the first in my family to become an officer. My sire died leading a company of Marines boarding a Tigerman cruiser in the Four Powers War. I am the first of my line to graduate from the Deep Space Fleet Academy, and my son is there now. I am not the simple-minded brute you believe me to be. Do not mistake my unquestioning obedience to your orders for stupidity. To repeat my question, what truth lies behind your words?"
"My nephew was a fine officer," the Brigadier replied, almost in a whisper.
"Your nephew was a Berzerker!" Rakarra roared. "I was in his class at the Academy. I knew him better than you did. That is why he picked me to be his second in command. I tried to keep him out of trouble. I tried to keep him alive. He was my friend! I mourned his loss, knowing I had not tried hard enough to convince him that his plan - his reckless charge into the enemy's strongest position - was brave, but stupid. There were other ways. He could have used more finesse, more guile. He could have been more clever. He could have been more ... sneaky."
"Courage is the way of the warrior!" the Brigadier responded. "Warriors do not slip into the back door like a thief."
"Courage is needed every time a warrior leads soldiers into battle," Lieutenant Rakarra responded. "When the only way is a desperate charge into the enemy guns, then one must find the courage to make it. But there is always another way. There is always a way to avoid wasting the lives of your soldiers. I never questioned your nephew's courage, and I never argued his orders before the troops. Once he was decided on his fatal plan I could do nothing but support it. I have never questioned the suicidal missions you have sent my company on because of the guilt that I have over the death of my friend. Not the death of your nephew, but the death of my friend."
"I see things from a new direction," the Brigadier responded, "and have long since regretted some of the decisions I have made about your company. Even so, the mission is most secret, and to tell anyone now risks the news leaking to the troops on this ship."
"I am not stupid," Rakarra repeated. "I know that this is true, but you must know that you risk the mission to send me to another ship without adequate preparations or equipment. If you will share this confidence with me, I will share it with no one else ... because my life depends on it. I will use the knowledge to prepare for the mission. I am not stupid. I know how to do my job, but I can do it better if I know what it is."
"Very well," the Brigadier said. "Should word of this pass from you, the charge will be treason and the sentence will be death by torture. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Sir! I understood before I came to you."
"Very well," the Brigadier said. "A ship has mutinied and is on its way to defect to the Kzintis. Your mission will be to catch them, transport aboard, break into their engine room, and disable their warp drive. This will allow other warships to catch them."
"What ship?" Lieutenant Rakarra asked.
"You don't need to know that," the Brigadier snapped.
"Yes, Brigadier, I do," Rakarra answered.
"A command cruiser?" Lieutenant Rakarra gasped. "The loss of any ship is bad enough, but their databases ..."
"You grasp the gravity of the situation."
"Yes," Rakarra grunted. "How did the crew overcome Commodore Valgan? He is a tyrant of a captain and would not go down without a struggle. He would have destroyed the ship rather than let it be taken."
"That is the problem," the Brigadier said. "Valgan is the mutineer. He sent spies to assassinate Admiral Korvik and when his plot failed, ran for the enemy. No doubt, they will make him an admiral when he gives them the codes for his computers."
"Astounding," Rakarra growled. "A hundred thousand ESS secret police in the fleet to watch us and one of you steals a ship! Simply astounding. But no matter. How am I supposed to catch him? Based on where we are, he's at least a day closer to the nearest Tigerman planet, and just as fast."
"The ship you are being transferred to is a priority courier, more engines and fuel than anything else. It normally makes the run from the flagship to the capital and back. That ship will drive its engines to the melting point, refuel twice from other warships, and catch up with the Demonslayer. That fast courier is the only ship in range able to catch the mutineers. The raider is out of position. Only if you can slow them down can other ships catch them."
"I see," Rakarra said. "The courier will lack the space to carry equipment for 'any and every contingency' but knowing the real mission will allow me to select what I need. Your secrecy would have left me to make hasty decisions on what to leave behind, endangering the mission. I presume I can have anything from the ship's stores?" The Brigadier nodded. "And the signature of the Imperial Paladin on priority orders for anything else I need?" Again, the Brigadier nodded. "Very well. How soon will I talk to the ESS?"
"How did you know they would brief you?"
"They would have to brief me when they assigned an ESS officer to the mission ... and yes, I knew once you said 'mutiny' that they would have to do so. I am not stupid. I am loyal. I may be the only one who can succeed in this mission. I am an academy graduate and a warrior. But I am not a Klingon. They will send a Klingon to watch me."
"There is one other thing you should know," the Brigadier said, hesitantly.
"You mean that your son, Major Tarkaz Kenyil, commands the Marine detachment on the Demonslayer?"
"I did not know you knew that," the Brigadier said, "but that was what I was going to tell you."
"I cannot save your son if he has joined the mutiny," the Lieutenant said, "nor could I hide his actions from the secret police. I can promise that if he is guilty, he will die in combat rather than be taken prisoner, and perhaps I can arrange to leave the record of his actions somewhat vague. But if he is alive and loyal, I shall save him."
One Hour Later
"Come in, Lieutenant," the ESS Colonel said. "Be seated."
Marine Lieutenant Rakarra did so, noting that someone on the Colonel's staff had replaced the two office chairs normally in front of his desk with a large one able to hold the bear-ape's considerable bulk. He stared at the Colonel casually, not with indifference and certainly not with a glare, waiting for him to speak. It was already a more than expected courtesy that he was not required to stand. The secret police were warriors, too, and perhaps the man had respect for someone about to go on a mission with a low probability of survival.
"We will make rendezvous with the courier in less than an hour," the Colonel began. "I don't have time for our briefing to develop, nor do I have time to overwhelm you with my authority and let you ask questions when you recover your composure.
"I am told that you are unusually bright. I have studied your records, of course, many times. You are forthright in word and deed; I watched your interview with the Brigadier with a new insight.
"You know the mission." It was not a question, but a statement.
"Yes," Lieutenant Rakarra answered without elaboration. It was not wise to waste words on the secret police, nor was it wise to deny what they already knew.
"Then you know that this briefing is pointless," the Colonel replied. "Why are you here?"
"You summoned me, Sir," Rakarra answered, noting that the ESS Colonel, despite his earlier comment, delighted in playing word games. It was said, in hushed tones, that the Colonel was actually a medical doctor with a degree in psychiatry.
"Yes, I did, but why?" the Colonel asked.
The Slirdarian grunted inside his mouth, allowing nothing of the sound to escape his lips. He had recognized the technique. This Colonel was still taking his measure, perhaps even undecided as to whether to allow the Lieutenant and his company to undertake the mission at all.
"Three reasons," Rakarra began. "First, you have information that the Brigadier does not, information you know I will need to undertake the mission. Second, you are going to assign an ESS officer to my company for this mission, something you have not done before, and we both know that Kuris, the spy you had inside my third platoon, did not return from the hospital despite the triviality of his battle wound. Third, you want to be confident in your own mind that I am loyal to the Empire and will not simply steal the ship once I take it away from Valgan."
"You are a clever one," the Colonel answered, appearing to have been satisfied by the answer. "Very well.
"To your first question, this datapad has information regarding the ESS detachment on the ship, and the ESS agents hidden among the crew. You may study it in the outer office and leave it with my aide.
"To your second question, you will be taking Lieutenant Kurs with you. He is an expert in ship security systems, computers, and operating systems.
"To the third question, my answer is obvious, since I answered your first two questions," the Colonel finished.
"I have met this Kurs," the Lieutenant said. "He is no soldier, despite being of the warrior caste. He has never tasted combat, never drawn blood, nor shed it. He is a liability."
"Kurs is the best man for the job," the Colonel replied. "You are correct that he has no combat experience. He has been too valuable in his current duties; that I must risk him on this mission shows the importance of it. Kurs is no coward, and has asked for combat assignments many times."
"He has been an officer for six years," the Lieutenant responded. "He will go no higher without a combat victory to his name. His sash bears many medals, all reflecting his great service, but he has no combat medals."
"He holds the Order of Tyrek," the Colonel noted.
"For the raid on Zupask during which he never drew his weapon from its holster," Lieutenant Rakarra responded. "He never saw the enemy, never came under fire."
"But he did his job," the Colonel said.
"And if he does his job again," Rakarra answered, "he will have a Marine Star and a long career and you will never have to risk him again. You cannot promote him without a combat award."
"You are clever, Lieutenant," the Colonel replied. "He is the son of a friend, the nephew of my mentor, the grandson of a general of the Service."
"He comes from good blood," Rakarra replied. "Now, tell me what happened."
"You don't need to know," the Colonel replied.
"Yes, I do," Rakarra replied. "I have to transport on board a ship with no idea who is loyal and who is a traitor. I need to know what happened. I need to know this came to be."
"Very well," the colonel said. "Some hours ago, there was an attempt on the life of the Admiral Commanding Northern Fleet."
"By Commodore Valgan," Rakarra replied. "I know this."
"Apparently not," the Colonel said. "Valgan did not make the attempt himself; he had agents on board the flagship who tried ... and failed. Some of them were caught alive ... and talked. The Admiral sent orders to Demonslayer to rendezvous with another ship, but Demonslayer promptly ran instead and now refuses all communications. Several ships are in pursuit, from different angles, including three cruisers, four frigates, a corvette, and two police ships."
"The fast transport we are waiting for," Rakarra said, "it was at the flagship? Why didn't the Admiral send it with his own Marines?"
"The transport had already left the flagship," the Colonel said, "and while it would have saved time to call it back to the flagship, the Admiral could not trust his own Marines, as some of them were part of the attack."
"So he wanted a clean unit," Rakarra said, "one with no taint of treachery. And somehow, that ended up being me."
"You could put it that way," the Colonel said.
"Why does he trust the transport?" Rakarra asked. "It may have brought mutineers on board the flagship."
"He has no choice," the Colonel said, "but we have given him our best assurances that the transport crew is loyal."
"If that is all," Rakarra said, "I must study this data and get back to my troops."
A Few Minutes Later
"You are Kurs," Rakarra said as a matter of fact as the ESS officer entered the outer office. "Have you studied this file?" Rakarra had already completed his review. The file was small.
"Within the last hour," Kurs answered. "I came here, so we could meet away from your troops."
The Lieutenant grunted. Kurs was astute. Had there been any issue, the Lieutenant could resolve it outside the hearing of the troops. Of course, Kurs also had the advantage of terrain, being on his home ground, and with high-ranking allies close at hand. Kurs was smart.
Rakarra studied him. Kurs was typical for a Klingon of the warrior caste, obviously strong and physically fit, but of course no match for a Slirdarian. While an athlete, Kurs lacked the eyes of a combat soldier. But something was not as expected, not that Lieutenant Rakarra knew what to expect.
Kurs was not arrogant, nor was he subservient. He regarded the Slirdarian as, if anything, an equal, another officer who served the Empire.
Rakarra suddenly drew his dagger, but backed into a defensive posture, not attacking. Before he had reached this position, Lieutenant Kurs had also drawn his blade and actually reached a defensive combat stance before the Slirdarian.
"Very good, Lieutenant Kurs," the Slirdarian said, returning his blade to its sheath. "For someone never in combat, your reactions have not suffered."
"I confess I was expecting such a test," the Klingon said. "You still lack a true measure of my skill."
"It will have to do," Rakarra said. "Do you have your own combat gear?"
"Yes," Kurs said. "My Sergeant is already at your barracks with it, waiting for me."
"He will be going on the mission?" Rakarra asked.
"Negative," Kurs answered. "He walks on artificial legs."
"Very well," Rakarra said. "I have one other requirement for you to see to; it is on this datapad. Meet me at the barracks when you are done here."
"I shall," Kurs said.
A Few Minutes Later
"I am leaving these three behind," Senior Sergeant Doran said. "They are not recovered from their wounds." The Dunkar Sergeant's facial antennae were steady. He knew his decision was right, that it was his duty to remove from the unit those who were not fit. Rakarra could overrule him, but would not.
"Very well, but why not Korish or Melik-dor?" Rakarra asked. "They are also recently wounded."
"They have key skills," Doran said. "Korish is our best tracker, and Melik-dor is a computer security expert."
"Leave Korish behind," Rakarra said without elaboration. "That leaves twenty-three?"
"Yes, Lieutenant, counting yourself," the Sergeant said. "That includes the armorer, the medic, the two communications technicians, the Yeoman, two combat engineers, and the three weaponeers. Wanekla is already packed, as am I. The rest are riflemen."
"Bring them all," Rakarra said. "We will be joined by ESS Lieutenant Kurs."
"I know this," Doran said. "An ESS Sergeant brought his combat harness a few minutes ago. It is well-worn from training, but serviceable. I have drawn a carbine for him."
"Is that the weapon he wanted?" Rakarra asked.
"It is what his Sergeant said to draw for him," Doran replied. "He scored an 'expert' qualification in the combat drills the last five times."
"No access to earlier records," Doran said. "His physical qualification scores are at maximum. He spends his off-duty hours in the gym. His university degree is in engineering and electronics. He is the son of a major, the nephew of a colonel, and the grandson of a general, all of the ESS. His brother is a Marine; his sister is a starship officer of the ESS. Seven cousins, two uncles, and an aunt are, variously, Marine officers, Army officers, ESS officers, and even one Fleet officer. Two more cousins are in the Academy. On the screen, he seems solid. He has no combat experience."
"Very well," Rakarra said. "Have the armorer bring my personal gear to me before he loads it. I will take a turn through the barracks to check on the troops. Have Wanekla report to my office."
"It is done," Senior Sergeant Doran said.
Marine Lieutenant Rakarra did as he said he would, and went through the barracks area, solving problems and preventing them. It was not unusual for the company to transfer to a second ship and then launch a boarding or landing operation from there, and the troops knew the system.
This time, however, was different. Nobody other than Rakarra knew what the mission was, and he could not tell them. It would never have occurred to him to quietly spread the information. For one thing, the ESS would have detected this and arrested him on the spot. For another, there was always the risk that someone on Raidmaker was an enemy agent, or just sloppy about security, and the information would reach the enemy. The mutineers on Demonslayer had to know that the Empire would do everything it could to catch them, but they did not know if that was possible or how it might be done. Indeed, they had to assume that they had gotten away and that the only thing between them and the Kzintis was the chance of an engine failure or sabotage. They probably did not know about the fast courier, and they would not find out because Rakarra let the information escape his lips.
But Rakarra could use the information to make decisions, and he did so. The heavy weapons were left behind, as were the tents. The rock-climbing gear was taken, partly to confuse the issue and partly because some of it would be useful in operations inside the targeted ship. Bad weather gear was left behind, but everyone took the standard five days of combat rations they would take on a planetary landing, instead of just the two days they would take for a boarding action. Most of that food would be consumed on the courier, which did not stock extra food for unexpected passengers. He told the commo troops to take one long-range transmitter but to leave the other three behind. He ordered the axes and saws needed to turn local trees into shelters and bunkers left behind, but told the engineers to take their explosives, cutting torches, and computer units. The water purification systems were left behind, but the breathing apparatus were stacked on the pallets. Every soldier had a spare duty uniform and his body armor and personal weapons. Rakarra ordered the logisticians to issue phaser pistols to all sergeants and corporals, in addition to their disruptor rifles, then changed his mind and ordered every Marine issued one. The armorer was told to take his tool kits and the spare parts for the weapons. As always, everyone left behind their personal effects, without exception.
Marine Commander's Office, a few minutes later
"Scout Corporal Wanekla reporting as ordered," she said as she entered the door. The only survivor of the company's scout-commando unit, Wanekla would have been found beautiful by most Klingons, and for that matter by most Humans, but her beauty was exotic. She was athletic, with more muscle mass than the average Klingon woman, and while her body was well proportioned, there was little fat to smooth out her curves. Rakarra would not have noticed this, of course, but he was aware of her influence on other Klingons. While not as powerful as the Klingon men, she was faster and could jump higher and climb more quickly. But then, she was a Walkurian, not simply a Klingon. She was from a planet where blood sports and intense physical activity were the norm, and a unique "wild look" was deliberately cultivated. Walkurians sometimes scared other Klingons.
"Come in, and shut the door," Rakarra said. When she had done so, he resumed. "I know our mission, and no one else does. Until we get on board the other ship, no one else will. What you need to know now is that it will be a hostile boarding operation, and that I will have a special infiltration mission for you. Select the equipment you will need. I have allocated 100 kilos and half a cubic meter for you. Questions?"
"None you can answer," Wanekla replied.
"You are correct," Rakarra said. "I will tell you more when we transfer to the other ship. Dismissed."