January 1st 2235, New Tokyo at the Inauguration of the Terran Star Federation
My strongest memory from this occasion, that should have been a joyful one for both myself and the President, was a deep and abiding sense of frustration.
Only a few hours before I had briefed Dr Amponsah on the latest twists and turns of a war that had not been nearly as one sided as I had hoped. In truth the Krynn, for all their suicidal bravery, had proved crafty opponents and their tactics of throwing flight after flight of heavy fighters into the fray had necessitated a complete rethink on the part of our High Command (i.e. myself). The fact was that I had, after the initial euphoria of our stunning victory at Thielbahr, entrusted the day to day operational command on our Eastern flank to my man ‘on the ground’ there, Brigadier Darcey De Franc. It had been a mistake. Within only a few months marauding Squadrons of Krynn Heavy Fighters had penetrated the inadequate defensive screens of Terran Frigates and were both destroying our precious Economy Starbases and terrorising our merchant shipping.
‘What the hell am I paying you for Brigadier?’ I had raged at the poor man in his crew ready room aboard the England irritated that I had been forced to travel out to his fleet in order to upbraid him in person.
‘General it’s-it’s just not as easy trying to control the whole Eastern Fleet’ Darcey had replied looking at once proud and at the same time miserable. He had been an excellent Flight Captain and an even better Group Colonel-hell he had even done a passably good job of Force Brigadier. Combined-Fleet Brigadier, however, seemed one promotion beyond him.
‘General’ I had growled ‘how many Fleets are you commanding at present?’
The question seemed to surprise the younger man and he hesitated to answer
‘Exactly-you don’t even know. Shall I tell you Darcey?’ I had virtually spat the last sentence out-attention to detail was a commodity that I valued extremely highly in myself and by extension my subordinates. ‘Jesus Darcey-you have 6 Fleets and the problem that you have is not their number but their positioning.’
I had ushered him to his cabin mini holo-jector and activated it so that it displayed the part of the galaxy that we were in.
‘See here are your fleets and the Krynn incursions here, here and here’ I felt like a schoolmaster delivering a lesson to an errant child.
Darcey was nodding obediently-I could see no spark of defiance in his eyes, however and that worried me.
‘The issue has been that you have tried to push eastwards towards Krynn space without having the correct defensive screen in place. Think of it like a game of Talsball. You must assign your defensive screen before you push your offence forward-do you get me?’
‘I just don’t have enough Scouts Sir-‘
‘IT’S NOT ABOUT THE F*****G SCOUTS!’ I exploded my patience finally at an end ‘IT’S ABOUT POSITIONING YOUR DEFENCE BEFORE YOU ATTACK! Christ Brigadier-have they taught you nothing at Staff College?’
But even the flinching response to my outburst told me all I wanted to know and had made up my mind-in truth I was only wanting to see if De Franc would prove me wrong before making my move.
I remember straightening up and delivering my judgement in a cold tone that brooked no challenge or dissent:
‘Brigadier De Franc I am relieving you of your duties as CFB with immediate effect-you will remain in command of Fleet designate 264 and 262 but the operational command of the Combined Eastern Fleet will be taken over by Sheila Unsworth, who I will be promoting in the field later today.’
It was a stunning reversal of fortune for a man who many had felt would succeed me when I moved on but it was as necessary as it was painful. The fact was that this was the end of the line for Brigadier General Darcey De Franc-this sort of event usually resulted in backroom jobs and then pensioning out. But such was the pressure of command: I had a whole star race and the President to answer to. The fact that he was my friend and close to my family was besides the point: I had exposed him to real pressure and real command and he had been found wanting.
And it was in that spirit that I had briefed the luminaries of the Situation Room, the morning before the inauguration, on the conduct of the war and with our Combined Eastern Fleet now pushing into Krynn-held space and beginning the assaults on the fleets defending the Krynn worlds themselves and with no more of our economic interests being attacked, things looked much more rosy. I had been forced to defend the amount of time it was taking by none other than Jonas Johansson, the Finnish Finance Minister, who had declared in strident tones that the war had now cost the Treasury no less than 10TrC-a staggering sum of money and one that would only partially be lessened by the move to a Star Federation-the man was nothing short of hysterical which irritated me. If the President was moved by this display, however, he did not show it, instead calmly asking me to provide an assessment of how much longer the war would take.
‘Sir these things are always hard to predict but the conduct of the war has moved a lot faster since I assigned Brigadier Unsworth command of the Eastern Fleet. The only thing that will now slow us down is the production of the Transports we need to take the Krynn worlds.’
Amponsah eyed me evenly ‘Pray General that it is no more than a few months for whilst I am rather more sanguine about our economy than Jonas here I am also disturbed by the sheer cost of this war to us.’
What could I say? The cost to our coffers had been immense but ultimately conquering the Krynn would set us up most advantageously for the inevitable war with the Torians whenever it came to us.
‘Sir I only need five more months, maximum, to bring the Krynn to their knees-after their surrender the whole Galaxy will sit up and take notice-even the Torians.’
‘Yes the Torians…..’ The President was surveying me again-we had never quite regained that closeness that we had once had before the thing with Mirathro-why was he looking at me like that?
‘You are becoming somewhat over-concerned with our Western neighbours General’ put in General Transa Mooto, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and no friend of mine. I could swear that he coveted my post.
‘My concerns, General, are no business of yours!’ I snapped-I could not bear this preening, talentless man.
‘Gentlemen! Remember where you are and whom you serve!’ This last was urgently interjected by a fuming Marc Beaton, ‘You will comport yourselves or you will leave!’
We sat in stony silence as the tension washed over the room-the atmosphere had changed from a certain airy optimism based around the forthcoming inauguration, to a stunned and sullen glumness which was only punctuated finally by the President himself.
‘The Chief of Staff is correct Generals-this is no way to conduct yourselves is it?’ the President smiled at us but something was wrong; his smile was completely devoid of any humour or warmth.
‘You would both learn to live with each other especially as you will be working so closely together from now on…..’
I froze-had I just heard the President correctly-working with Mooto? How?
As if reading the look of incredulity on my face the President continued: ‘Am I not right in saying that you still have not appointed a General to lead the Marines?’
‘Er-that’s right Mr President but I was hoping to discuss candidates with you later today.’
The Presidents gaze was icy ‘No need General-you are looking at him. General Mooto congratulations on your new post-I am sure that you will get on with General Mormon famously. And now ladies and gentlemen if you will excuse me I have an inauguration speech to deliver.’ And with that Dr Amponsah swept from the room.
Everyone stood as the President left, as protocol dictated. All but me-I sat, open-mouthed in my seat, too stunned to move, and all I could see was the look of naked triumph on my rival General’s face………….