2948-04-07 – Tales from the Service: Plucked from the Ranks
General Albert Bell didn’t even look up as Glorinda Eccleston entered his office. She stood stiffly at attention for a full ninety seconds while he finished scrutinizing a report of some kind. Though the volumetric air display built into the top of his desk privacy-hazed the contents from her angle, Glorinda saw topographic maps and charts appear and disappear, each one changing the color of the light glinting off General Bell’s fatigue-rimmed eyes.
At last, the general blanked the display and turned his attention to the visitor. “You must be Sergeant Eccleston.” He nodded stiffly, then motioned to a metal-frame chair on the opposite side of his desk. “Please sit.”
Glorinda did so, still disoriented that the general in command of the planet’s entire garrison had summoned her by name. Bell looked nothing like she expected – in her imagination, a general was tall, broad-shouldered, clean-shaven and square-jawed. Bell, on the other hand, stooped and chubby, with surplus chins providing a comfortable margin for error in case he lost the unimpressive primary unit. Combined with his sloping forehead, thinning brown hair, and blearily bulging eyes, the man seemed more suited to the role of an eccentric professor than a military leader expecting to command fifty thousand men and women in hard, bloody fighting.
Bell sized up Glorinda as she did him, then flicked the controls on his desk display. A few blocks of text appeared there, this time oriented for her to read and free of any privacy-blurring effect. Reading quickly, she saw that it was a report submitted by Captain Moravec, her company’s commanding officer. It referred to a conversation he’d had with Glorinda several weeks prior, while their position was still under construction. Her heart sinking into her stomach, she saw that the report went on to describe how a faithful description of that same conversation had appeared on a popular datasphere spacers’ entertainment platform, and how though the press account used falsified names, the origin had quickly spread through the company rumor mill once an avid reader of the publication circulated the story through the ranks.
“General, I can explain. This-”
Bell held up a hand, silencing her protest before she could describe how Naval Intelligence had contacted her and insisted on a thorough investigation of the story before clearing it for publication. Wincing, Glorinda sat back, waiting for the inevitable dressing-down. As uncomfortable as she knew it would be, she tried to make herself ready for the dressing-down she probably deserved.
“Sergeant, is this report accurate to your knowledge?”
Glorinda scanned it again. "I suppose it is, General.” Everyone knew, but nobody had told her they’d figured it out? It seemed impossible.
“You submitted this account to a civilian media organ on your own initiative, yes?”
Glorinda shook her head. “Not exactly, sir. I sent it to Fifth Fleet Intelligence recommending they send it on to that media outfit. They apparently agreed with me.”
“Do you wish to contest any of the information provided by this civilian journalist? Do you think he misrepresented anything in his version?”
“No sir. He presented the story accurately, after changing all the names.”
Bell nodded gravely. “Who in my command did you discuss this decision with?”
Glorinda winced. That was the point of contention, then – she had run the story through the usual Navy process, without considering what the local FDA command – her proper superior officers – would think. She had forgotten that as a Naval liaison, she was seconded to the FDA, which probably wanted its own say in what was published about its defensive preparations. “No-one, General. I acted without approval from anyone else.”
Bell blanked the display and leaned over the desk. “It’s a shame you did. Captain Moravec stood up for you, said he couldn’t spare you in his command. But this leaves me with very little choice.”
Glorinda nodded numbly. “I understand, General.”
Bell looked at her strangely, and Glorinda thought she saw an impish sparkle in his puffy-lidded eyes. “I don’t think you do, Sergeant Eccleston. The decision is entirely out of my hands. You are relieved of your duties in Moravec’s company effective immediately.” With that, the general slid a data-slate across his desk toward her.
Glorinda picked up the slate, which woke at her touch to display orders headed with the venerable crest of the Confederated Navy and the intricate, youthful emblem of the Frontier Defense Army. Below the header with her name and service identification number, she saw instructions to report to -
“Report to the Twelfth Marines, General?”
The impish look Glorinda had thought she’d seen earlier was back, this time unmistakable. “You report directly to Colonel Louis Pokorni, who will make planetfall at the end of the second shift tomorrow. He’ll be expecting you to meet him at the pad.”
Glorinda, having expected censure, demotion, or relegation to punishment duty, said something which she knew to be inane before she had even finished. “The Marines already have their own Naval liaisons.”
“The job they’re giving you is Intelligence Liaison. Why Marine colonels get them and I can’t get more than one for the whole damned garrison is anyone’s guess.” By his tone, he had a pet favorite reason for this disparity, and it was one he disliked helplessly.
“General, sir, I can’t be intelligence liaison to anybody.”
“Your dossier says you were a Naval Intelligence analyst for three years. Sure, they probably had you pushing charts and tables, but it’s enough that you’re the best choice on the whole damned planet.” This time, the stern look cracked a bit, with a smile tugging at the edges of General Bell’s mouth. “Maybe if you hadn’t caught brought yourself to the attention of the spooks, you would still be reporting to Captain Moravec.”
“I don’t know what to say, General. I’m not ready for this.”
Bell sighed and nodded. “I know you aren’t. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret, kid.” He leaned over his desk conspiratorially.
“What is it?” Despite herself, Glorinda leaned forward too.
“Nobody’s ready, Eccleston. Not a damned one of us, right up to the stiff-collar admirals. Nobody’s ever ready for a war like this. Welcome to the club.”
Glorinda, remembering her first impression of General Bell, nodded numbly. Perhaps he had been little more than an administrator or a professor before the FDA had been called forth from the population of the Coreward Frontier only months prior.
“Get your kit out of Moravec’s barracks and be on that pad to meet Pokorni tomorrow. Not being ready won’t stop you, me, or anyone.”
Sensing that this was the end of the interview, Glorinda stood and saluted, clutching the slate under her arm. Bell waved away the salute, then gestured for her to leave, already calling up more charts and maps on his desk display.
This story demonstrates something I would not have expected – that this text feed is apparently widely read among the infantry of the Frontier Defense Army as well as among the spacers of the Navy. Despite the work of both this team and Naval Intelligence, the data stripped out of a previous entry (Tales from the Service: A Rock In the Way) was guessed at by comrades of the person who we call Glorinda Eccleston (at Naval Intelligence’s behest).
That Naval Intelligence would swoop in to reassign this contact is more related to her past experience as an Intelligence analyst than the datasphere interest in the story from two weeks ago. Perhaps the general’s assertion that it might not have happened if she had not used Naval Intelligence channels to forward the story to Cosmic Background is correct, but I somehow doubt that “Glorinda” was entirely unknown to Fifth Fleet Intelligence until she wished to have the helpless certainty of approaching doom communicated to the public back home. Her rationale for guessing where next the Incarnation will strike (not replicated in detail in the previous installment for obvious reasons) is quite thorough, suggesting that she is a natural interpreter of military situations.
Unlike other names displayed in this story, those of Colonel Louis Pokorni and his Twelfth Marine Regiment are those of the proper officer and unit. Their location is not public information – that they will be assigned to one of the most likely sites of the next Incarnation attack, however, is no secret at all.