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Chapter Thirty

The lift doors opened, and Citizen Captain Joanne Hallknown to friends and family as "Froggie" for reasons which remained a deep, dark secret from the officers and crew of PNS Schaumberg strode briskly through them.

"The Citizen Captain is on the bridge!" a petty officer announced, and Citizen Commander Oliver Diamato, who had the watch, looked up, then rose quickly. Hall gave him a level look, and he swallowed a mental curse. He should have seen her coming, or at least heard the lift door, before the citizen petty officer announced her presence, and he felt quite certain she would find some way to make that point to him in the very near future. She had a habit of doing things like that.

"Good morning, Citizen Commander." Citizen Captain Hall's dark hair and dark complexion were the exact antithesis of Diamato's golden hair and fair complexion, and her dark eyes gazed levelly into his blue ones. Her coloration was perfectly suited to the severe persona she presented to the universe... and somehow the "citizen" hung on the front of Diamato's rank title seemed an afterthought the way she said it.

"Good morning, Citizen Captain!" he replied. "I apologize for not noticing your arrival," he went on, taking the bull firmly by the horns. "I was reviewing the chips of yesterday's sims, and I got more immersed in them than I should have."

"Um." She regarded him thoughtfully for several long seconds, then shrugged ever so slightly. "God hasn't gotten around to issuing eyes for the backs of our heads yet, Citizen Commander. Bearing that in mind, I suppose there's no harm done... this time."

"Thank you, Citizen Captain. I'll try not to let it happen again," Diamato replied, and wondered if he was the only person on the bridge who found the entire exchange rather antique and unnatural. Not that he expected to hear anyone else say so, even if they did.

Citizen Captain Hall sometimes seemed not to have heard that the old elitist officer corps and its traditions had been overtaken by events, and she was a stickler for what she referred to as "proper military discipline." Then-Citizen Lieutenant Commander Diamato had been less than delighted when he first discovered that fact upon his assignment to Schaumberg as the battleship's brand-new assistant tactical officer eleven T-months before. A product of the post-Coup promotions, he had risen from junior-grade lieutenant under the old regime to his present rank in barely eight T-years under the New Order. Much of that was the result of raw abilityhe was one of the better tactical officers the PN had produced during the present warbut his political commitment had also been a major reason for his meteoric elevation. The Navy's insidious rot under the Legislaturalist officer corps' iron defense of privilege had inspired him with all the contempt for the old elitist order that any good people's commissioner could have desired, and he had been deeply suspicious of someone as old-fashioned (and probably reactionary) as Citizen Captain Hall.

He had expected Citizen Commissioner Addison to share his reservations about his CO. The slender, sandy-blond people's commissioner was absolutely committed to the New Order, after all. Diamato only had to attend a single one of Addison's regular political awareness sessions to realize that, and his fierce egalitarianism ought to have made him and Hall natural enemies. Yet the commissioner had actually supported her, and as Diamato had watched her in action, her sheer competence had overcome even his doubts.

Yes, she was old-fashioned, and he very much doubted she had the proper political opinions. But in large part, that seemed to stem from the fact that she didn't have any political opinions. She did her job exactly as she had under the old regimefar better than mostand let her political superiors worry about policy.

It still struck Diamato as unnatural, but seven months ago she had demonstrated just how well doing things her way worked. Old Citizen Commander Young had been Schaumberg's tactical officer at the time, and Young was the sort of officer who forced Diamato to admit that even the New Order had its weak points. Young's political fervor and patrons had gotten him assigned to a position his ability (or lack of it) could never have earned, and Hall and Addison hadn't managed to get rid of him. Which was why the Citizen Captain had taken personal command of the ship and proceeded to give Citizen Lieutenant Commander Diamato a rather humbling lesson in just how good he himself truly was.

Everyone knew battleships couldn't fight proper ships of the wall and that battlecruisers were even more outclassed by battleships than battleships were by superdreadnoughts. Fortunately, ships of the wall usually couldn't catch battleships, and battleships usually couldn't catch battlecruisers. Unfortunately for the Royal Manticoran Navy, that rule didn't always hold true. It especially didn't hold true when the battleship's captain had the nerve to take her own impellers off-line and just sit there like a hole in space until the Manties were actually in extreme missile range. Hall had that kind of nerve, and less than a month after Citizen Rear Admiral Tourville blew out the Adler System picket, she had neatly ambushed a trio of raiding Manty battlecruisers. They hadn't had the remotest suspicion she was even there until they'd built vectors which gave them no choice, even with their superior acceleration rates, but to come into her engagement range.

RMN battlecruisers were tough customers, especially given the superiority of the Star Kingdom's EW and missiles. Many Republican officers would have hesitated to engage three of them at once, even if she did out-mass them by almost two-to-one. That, in fact, had been Citizen Commander Young's earnest recommendation. Hall hadn't taken it, however... and she'd blown two of her enemies right out of space. The third had gotten away, but with enough damage to keep her out of action for months, whereas Schaumberg's repairs had required only five weeks of yard time. It had been a small-scale action, but it had also been a very difficult assignment, and Diamato had been on the bridge when it all went down. Despite the Manties' numerical advantagenot to mention the two destroyers screening themHall had made it seem almost routine. The only people who'd appeared more confident than her of her ability to handle it had been her bridge crew (aside from Young), and as Diamato watched their crisp efficiency, he had realized something he'd never quite grasped before.

A military organization was not the best laboratory for working out the proper forms of egalitarian social theory. The defense of a society which enshrined economic and political equality had to be undertaken by an authoritarian hierarchy with the clear, sharply defined sort of chain of command that put a single person ultimately in control, for combat operations were not a task which could be discharged by committee. The fact that, even after she won the battle by doing the exact opposite of what Young had recommended, it had still taken her and Addison another seven months to overcome the old tac officer's political influence in order to get rid of him had only made that even more obvious to Diamato.

That thought had caused him a few anxious moments when he reflected upon the existence of the Committee of Public Safety, but he'd soon realized that it was a false comparison. Military operations were a specialized and limited sphere of human activity. The larger macrocosm of the entire People's Republic required a different approach, and the combination of centralized power and multiple viewpoints represented by the Committee of Public Safety was undoubtedly the best possible compromise.

But Citizen Captain Hall's firm, demanding command style certainly had its place in the military. That, Diamato had come to realize, was the reason Addison supported her to the hilt. The people's commissioner didn't actually seem to like her very much, but he respected her, and the record of Schaumberg's accomplishments under her command was the reason Citizen Rear Admiral Kellet had chosen the battleship as Task Force 12.3's flagship.

"Don't beat your apology to death, Citizen Commander," Citizen Captain Hall said now, with a slight smile that took most of the sting from the words. "You are my tac officer. I suppose it's not totally unreasonable for you to spend some time reviewing tactical problems... even when you have the watch."

She stepped past him and seated herself in the command chair, and Diamato folded his hands behind his back while she ran her eyes over the readouts to catch herself up on the state of her command.

"Did Engineering find out what was causing that harmonic in Beta Thirty?"

"No, Citizen Captain." Diamato was glad he'd checked the status of the after impeller room with Citizen Lieutenant Commander Hopkins less than fifteen minutes ago. Letting the Citizen Captain catch one less than fully informed was a seriously unpleasant experience, and Citizen Commissioner Addison wouldn't do a thing to preserve one from the consequences. In fact, Diamato thought, he usually gets behind her and pushes when she comes down on someone.

"Um," she repeated. Then she leaned over and tapped a command code into the touchpad on her chair's arm. Her tactical repeater came on-line, and she frowned pensively at the data codes moving across the display. Diamato glanced inconspicuously over her shoulder and realized she was rerunning the same sim he'd been reviewing when she arrived. She let the one-on-one duel play through on a six-to-one time compression, then looked up so quickly she caught him watching her. He tensed for an explosion, but she only smiled.

"I see why you were so intent on this, Citizen Commander," she told him, and waved him over to stand beside her chair, then restarted the sim again.

"I hadn't realized at the time quite how neatly you pulled off this maneuver here," she went on, freezing the display, and Diamato nodded cautiously. He'd been rather proud of the shot himself. It wasn't one that was likely to prove practical in a fleet action, of course. Walls of battle didn't take kindly to units which suddenly pitched up perpendicular to their original vectors while simultaneously rotating on their long axes and turning through a radical skew turn. Doing that usually caused Bad Things to happen when impeller wedges collided, but the sim had been a single-ship duel, not a fleet action, and the unorthodox maneuver had given him an up-the-kilt shot at his simulated opponent that had inflicted extremely heavy damage.

"The question," Hall went on, leaning back and crossing her legs while she regarded him with an almost whimsical smile, "is whether you saw it coming or simply reacted on instinct." Diamato felt his expression try to congeal, but she shook her head. "Either possibility still puts you well ahead of the normal performance curve, Citizen Commander. I simply want to know which it was for future reference. So which was it?"

"I'm... not certain, Citizen Captain," he admitted after a moment. "It all came together without my consciously considering it, and I suppose you might call that instinct. But it wasn't all automatic. I... Well, I saw the pattern coming and recognized the possibility, so I had the whole thing sort of waiting in the back of my mind in case it actually happened, and"

He shrugged helplessly, and she chuckled.

"So you do have the eye, Citizen Commander! I rather thought you might. Good. That's very good, Oliver." Diamato managed not to blink. He'd been her second officer for just under a T-month now and her tactical officer for over three, yet this was the first time she had ever used his first name. In fact, it was the first time she'd ever indicated she even knew what his first name was. Yet what truly astounded him was how good it felt to hear her use it with approval.

She cocked her head, watching him as if she were waiting for something, and his mind raced as he wondered what the hell he was supposed to say now.

"I'm glad you approve, Citizen Captain," he said finally.

"Ah, but you may not be for long, Oliver," she told him with something which looked unaccountably like an actual grin. "You see, now that you've demonstrated that you have it, you and Citizen Commander Hamer and I are going to be spending at least four extra hours a day developing it." Her grin grew broader at his expression, and she reached out and patted him on the elbow. "I'll have the Citizen Exec whip up half a dozen new problems for you in Simulator Seven," she promised. "I'll be interested to see your solutions to them by your next watch."

* * * | Echoes Of Honor | * * *