FOR THE GOOD OF THE EMPIRE
Part Five of ten
"Lieutenant Commander Korack, Commanding the Bold Raven, reporting as per orders, Sir!"
"Commander Wallek, reporting as ordered, Sir!"
"At ease, Commander. Take a seat."
The officer did so, taking the empty (and far less comfortable) chair in the center of the row that faced the admiral's desk, between his flag lieutenant and operations commander on one side, and the admiral's chief of personnel and chief of engineering on the other.
"Do you know why you are here?" the flag lieutenant asked, clearly at pains to even look at the newly-arrived commander. The new officer was dressed in what the others considered a shabby uniform, although it was completely serviceable. While every officer in the room carried a pistol (the admiral's was in his desk drawer), Wallek carried at least three. Sheared from their skulls, the hair of the five Klingons in the room could not have equaled the wild locks and bushy mustache of Commander Wallek.
Wallek was of pure Klingon blood, although if asked he would have given his race as Walkurian. Any Klingon would have recognized the shabby uniform and excessive hair from ten meters. While Walkuria was a warrior colony and Wallek was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Deep Space Fleet officers, Walkurians were like no other Klingons in the Empire. Shorter, heavier, and perhaps even more dangerous-looking, Walkurians were a breed apart, their actions, attitudes, bodies, and clothing reflecting the harsh conditions of their home planet.
"Not officially," Commander Wallek replied. "Based on the fact that seventy of my officers and crew were transferred here with me from the Black Rider, I would surmise that some frigate has lost a third of its crew and we are to replace them. But I have never heard of such a mass transfer from one of the reserve frigates to a front line combat vessel, and this intrigues me. Normally, a ship with that amount of damage would be stripped of many of the crew while being repaired, then refilled with new recruits or returning casualties or transfers from other ships under repair when ready for service. My crew are veterans of four battles with pirates, one against a Kzinti raider, and two landing operations against armed rebels.
"Curiously, the movement orders specifically prevented any of the bases we have passed through from stealing my people as we passed through. That is most unusual, and portends that some ship has a need for the entire crew to be replaced, and to do that it must start with a solid and cohesive cadre who have fought together."
"You surmise much," said the personnel officer, "and speak well."
"I speak well because I was trained to behave as an officer, a leader, and a warrior," Wallek said, "and in that order. I graduated from the same academy that you all did, and it was not because they wanted rid of me. I was fourteenth in my class. I served as chief weapons officer on a cruiser and first officer of a frigate before being offered the captaincy of Black Rider, an offer I took on the spot even though it was an old F4 assigned to convoy duty. The crew of Black Rider is entirely Walkurian, and it is one of my planet's greatest honors to command that ship. I never expected to end my career on Black Rider, and am ready for any duty required. I never expected to see half of my crew transferred with me in one block, but they are a solid crew and ready for a new ship.
"As for what I surmise," Wallek said, "tell me I am wrong."
"In only one minor regard," the personnel officer said. "Axe Wielder has lost a third of its crew, but none of the survivors are being taken off the ship, except for medical reasons. Your detachment comprises the entire replacement serial."
"The crew is rotten," the Operations Commander said. "They are reservists and never understood why the Deep Space Fleet does things the way it does them. They never pressed their attacks, never pursued a wounded foe, never took a risk, never sent Marines to board an enemy vessel. Their gunnery is the worst in the Northern Fleet, all of their performance is barely within standards, and they do not regard their record as a problem. To send in replacements piecemeal would see them overwhelmed by the corruption of the existing crew. Only by sending in an intact crew able to watch each other's backs can the ship be saved."
"Why not replace the entire crew?" Wallek asked.
"I don't want their 'casual' attitudes corrupting the rest of my fleet," the Admiral spat. "My fleet consists of warriors, not gentlemen sailors, and I shall keep the corruption confined to one ship. Your job, Commander Wallek, is to burn that corruption out, to cauterize the wound, to keep infection from spreading."
"Why not just send them to a penal colony?" Wallek asked. "There are no end of asteroid mining stations around here."
"Politically impossible," the personnel officer said. "Axe Wielder was a gift to the Emperor from the people of Klegarine. The entire crew is from that planet; there are no subject race personnel on board. To send them to penal colonies, not that they deserve such gentle treatment, would make it difficult to convince other planets to raise extra funds and build extra ships. It would be an insult to the entire planet of Klegarine. And to every other planet in the Empire."
"Why not just go through the fleet and fill up the ship with veteran warriors who happened to have been born on Klegarine?" Wallek asked.
"Already answered," the admiral said, "piecemeal replacements would be corrupted by the united survivors of the original crew. There are few ships with single-planet crews in the fleet, and to send in a mixed crew including subject race personnel would risk the unthinkable. Your Walkurians are not going to be corrupted."
"Not turned into gentleman sailors, you mean?" Wallek answered without humor. "I think that much I can guarantee. But will not all of Klegarine be dishonored?"
"Perhaps," said the Admiral, "but the information ministry is telling the story that Walkuria wanted a front line ship, and that the 'historical friendship' between Walkuria and Klegarine made it possible for their crews to 'unite' to face the enemy."
"I must have had the pellekpox the day that my grade school teachers mentioned that 'historic friendship' between our planets," Wallek replied. "But give me the ship and I will fix the crew. What shape is Axe Wielder in? She sustained heavy damage, I take it, to have lost a third of the crew?"
"I have the reports for you," the fleet engineer said, his first words of the meeting. "The ship will be up to operational standards, but hardly to its original pristine condition. There is a war going on, and repair assets are limited. We'll get every system up with one backup, and you can have your own crew rebuild the secondary and tertiary backup systems."
"Not in front line combat I can't," Wallek said. "What's my mission?"
"Garrison frigate for a captured Kzinti province," the operations commander said. "Show the banner, intimidate the locals, chase out the pirates, and round up any Kzinti stragglers or infiltrators."
"Acceptable," Wallek said. "How long will I have before we go back to the front?"
"Impossible to say," the operations commander replied. "Certainly a few months, certainly less than a year."
"When the state of your repairs exceeds the most damaged frigate in the Northern Fleet," the engineer said.
"Acceptable," Wallek said. "If this ship is highly publicized, I assume that someone from the Klegarine government, and media, visits it now and then?"
"The last visit was just before their last battle," the Flag Lieutenant said. "We have convinced the Klegarine government that the ship needs time to put their last battle behind them before another official visit. You have two months; we cannot stall them longer."
"Where is Axe Wielder now?" Kehlen asked.
"At Battle Station Z9," the Operations Commander answered. "Repairs are being completed even now. Transport for you and your replacement draft has been arranged for tomorrow."
"Good, I can use the travel time between now and getting to Z9 to review the personnel records and the combat logs. I also want all of the ESS logs. I will want to have all of my personnel assigned to their new stations before I arrive."
"You may also want to speak with Lieutenant Kosmark," the Personnel Officer said. "He was a combat veteran transferred to the ship when it commissioned because he was born on Klegarine. He's in the hospital here, now. We can tell him that you're compiling combat interviews, not that you are the ship's new captain. He may have some insights."
"I will review his records before I decide to speak with him," Wallek said. "What is the ship's efficiency rating?"
"Their engineering was first-rate for their first duty cycle," the fleet engineer said. "All of the engineers were working as engineers on freighters, auxiliaries, or the guard ship before moving to Axe Wielder. After the first five months, however, the engineering watch officers were rotated to other assignments and efficiency dropped and has remained at minimum acceptable standards."
Wallek thought that one over. "Are the watch officers alive?" he asked. "I was told to bring one engineer with me."
"The original senior engineering watch officer is alive and currently the chief navigator," the Personnel officer said. "The junior engineering watch officer was Lieutenant Kosmark, and he won't be returning to duty for a year or more."
"I need three things," Wallek said. "And I cannot do this without them."
"What are they?" the Admiral asked. "If they are in my power, I will grant them."
"First, I will need to have two or three officers out of the next general replacement draft or rotation, to report to Axe Wielder in 30 days." When the others started to ask why, he added: "It is inevitable that I will have to remove some officers that I cannot retrain." The admiral nodded to the personnel officer.
"Second, I will need a mission, something that requires combat, but not too much combat, within the second ten-day. I request that the Operations Commander for the sector be advised to ... keep his eyes open for an opportunity." The Operations Commander nodded, indicating he would pass this message to the Operations Commander at Battle Station Z9.
"And finally, I needŠ (continued next month)