Command Decisions – Chapter Three

Jared stepped onto Courageous’ bridge. Charlie Graves, his executive officer, rose from the captain’s chair with a grin splitting his face.

“Captain. We’re about half an hour from Athena. The probe popped back over before Athena could send a message to it. Fleet was getting a scan of the system, I suspect.”

Jared nodded to Lieutenant Zia Anderson, his tactical officer, and Lieutenant Pasco Ramirez, his helm officer. “We need to send them a message as soon as that probe returns. In fact, let’s send one of our probes to make sure that they have our current status. I don’t want any problems because of Courageous. And they need to know what we found.” Jared raised his voice. “Zia, record my response and load it into a probe.”

He made certain that his face was professionally neutral as he began speaking. “This is Commander Jared Mertz, captain of the destroyer Athena. We’re glad to see you, but it’s imperative that you do not transition to this system. I repeat, you must not use that flip point. It’s a one-way trip. There’s no way home.

“We’re on our way to the flip point now. If you access the high priority data contained in the probes that we left for you, you’ll see a summary of events. The large ship on your scanners is friendly. Again, we’re glad to see you, but do not come through the flip point. Mertz out. Zia, add a current update of our data and launch the probe.”

He turned his attention to Lieutenant Pasco Ramirez, Courageous’ helmsman. “Maximum speed to the flip point. We need to be close so we can answer their questions as quickly as possible.”

Less than ten minutes later, Zia stiffened. “Multiple transitions at the weak flip point! I’m detecting six vessels.”

Jared cursed. Their probe had almost made it. “Record a new message. Fleet vessels, this is Commander Jared Mertz. We are in route to your position. We have medical teams standing by to assist you. Hang on. Mertz out. Zia, can you ID those ships?”

“There’s one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, and three destroyers. I’m comparing them to the databases we brought from Athena now.” She tapped her console. “Sir, that cruiser is Spear.”

It took a moment for that to soak in. Spear. The ship they’d beaten in the war games before they left on this mission. That meant he was dealing with Captain Wallace Breckenridge. He couldn’t think of a worse person to have dropped into his lap. Breckenridge was no fan of Jared’s, and the man outranked him.

“Incoming transmission,” Zia said.

“Put it on the screen.”

Breckenridge looked mussed. Something dark stained the front of his tunic and his hair stood out in a particularly unflattering manner. “Unknown vessel, this is Captain Wallace Breckenridge of the Imperial Fleet heavy cruiser Spear. Stand clear of Athena or my task force will fire on you.”

Graves stared at Jared uncomprehendingly. “Does he think we’re attacking Athena? Didn’t he review any of the data we left for him? Jesus Christ. Now they’re trapped here just like we are.”

Jared gave the XO a reproving glance. “Belay that, XO. He’s a senior Fleet officer and we will not speak of him in that tone.” He sighed. “I can’t imagine what he was thinking. We’ll find out soon enough.”

What was apparent to Jared was that Captain Breckenridge hadn’t waited to find out what the situation was. If he’d done even a cursory scan of the data, he’d have seen the warning not to use the flip point. A deeper examination of the data would have told him what Courageous was.

The implication was that neither of the probes they’d sent deeper into the Empire had made it. Breckenridge and his task force had chanced across the one they’d left at the flip point. And rather than waiting to review the information inside it, they’d flipped across to rescue Athena.

The Old Empire battlecruiser must’ve seemed like an alien vessel. Their probe had picked up Courageous closing on the damaged Athena. Its appearance must’ve seemed threatening. It had to have been something like that.

“Open a channel, Zia. Captain Breckenridge, this is Jared Mertz. I’m on board the Fleet battlecruiser Courageous, the vessel approaching Athena. It’s not hostile.”

The other man frowned. “Mertz? What the hell is going on? Fleet battlecruiser? Explain yourself at once.”

Jared gave Breckenridge a concise report of events while attempting to explain that Courageous was a restored Old Empire battlecruiser. The older man didn’t seem able to grasp what he was saying.

“You’re not making any sense,” Breckenridge almost snarled. “You will report to Spear and explain it to me in person at once, Commander. Breckenridge out.”

Jared tiredly rubbed his eyes as the man’s image vanished from the screen. “Wonderful. Zia, load the critical information into a chip and I’ll take it with me. It won’t hurt to bring another copy.”

“Do you want me to go with you, sir?” Graves asked.

Jared shook his head. “Just to the docking bay. He’s angry and this is going to take a lot of explaining. It’s probably best he take his frustration out on me.”

He waited for Zia to hand him the chip and then made his way down to the forward docking level with his XO. On the way, he summoned Ensign Joyce Enova. The young woman had served on Spear.

Jared turned his attention to Graves as the lift arrived at the docking level. “If things go south, you will not intervene. I’m a big boy and I can handle this. I don’t want any ill-considered confrontations. No matter what happens, those are Fleet ships crewed by our brothers and sisters. Got it?”

Charlie nodded. “Yes, sir. Bend over and smile. Crystal clear, sir.”

Jared shook his head and clapped his XO on the shoulder. “Your heart is in the right place, but this is why you’re not in command of a ship yet. You say exactly what you think.”

“Like you’re much better.” Graves’ expression grew more somber. “You need to be careful, Jared. That man hates you and he’s not exactly a free thinker.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior. See you soon.”

Ensign Enova came out of the lift and stiffened to attention as Graves walked past her and returned to the bridge. “Captain.”

“Thanks for coming with me, Ensign. Let’s not keep Captain Breckenridge waiting.”

The cutter pilot looked over his shoulder as Jared peeked into the cockpit. “Captain. We’re go to launch as soon as you strap in. Based on their speed, we should be docking in about fifteen minutes.”

“Give me five minutes warning.”

“Aye, sir.”

He returned to the flight deck and strapped in beside Ensign Enova. “Okay, Joyce. Give me a run down on Captain Breckenridge. Whatever you feel comfortable sharing about his command style and quirks.”

The thin woman nodded. “Aye, sir. They didn’t allow me on the bridge during my middie cruise, but people talk. He was notoriously strict about following regulations. Sometimes even when they didn’t make sense. And when things came up that didn’t fit his expectations, he wasn’t shy about tearing someone up.”

That fit with Jared’s own experiences with the man. He could only imagine what serving as a midshipman under him would’ve been like. A nightmare most likely.

When Athena had ambushed his ship during the war games, he’d struck out at how he believed Athena had violated the rules of engagement. He’d taken out his lapses in preparation on Graves at the after action briefing. Even when Admiral Yeats had yanked him up short, the man had been inclined to blame circumstances and Jared’s actions for his ship’s mock destruction.

Which would no doubt make him even more difficult to deal with now.

“Let’s see if I can say this delicately,” Jared said. “For someone that’s so fond of regulations, he doesn’t seem to feel bound by them in some situations. Is that accurate?”

“There were rumors, sir. You know people don’t feel comfortable talking about the CO in a negative light to the new people, but there were times. Things similar to the war games just before we left on this mission, for example. I read the after action report. He didn’t have his ships at a heightened level of alert during the approach to Avalon. He didn’t expect enemy contact without warning. They were still scrambling when we blew them up.”

Jared nodded. “Speaking of that, does he hold a grudge?”

The ensign nodded. “Until it dies of old age and then he has it mounted so he can look at it every morning before breakfast.”


Nothing else they discussed changed Jared’s impression of a stiff, vindictive commander, bound by rules when things didn’t go his way. Which was just about the worst thing that could happen in their situation.

The approach went smoothly enough and the cutter docked without incident. Jared rose to his feet. “Stay on the flight deck, Ensign. I don’t want to take a chance that anyone will recognize you.”

“Aye, sir,” the woman said in a relieved tone. “Good luck.”


He made his way into Spear. Three men awaited him. One a commander by his rank tabs. The other two were marines with sidearms.

The officer extended his hand. “Commander Mertz. I’m Sean Meyer, Spear’s executive officer. The captain is in his office.” He didn’t offer the names of the marines.

Their presence was a not so subtle insult. It implied that Jared wasn’t trusted. He had no doubt that the point was intentional.

Commander Meyer’s grip was cool and loose, and he didn’t smile. His eyes had more than a flicker of distain. “I’m given to understand that you had something to do with our rather rough transition.” He turned toward the lift. The marines fell in behind Jared.

Jared put aside the impression that they’d just taken him into custody. It might be accurate, but it was irrelevant to the situation. “I’m afraid I can’t control physics. The scientists tell me that it’s part of the way those weak flip points are formed. We included all the data we had on the probe we left for you. Right after the warning not to use the flip point.”

A flicker of something showed in the other man’s eyes. “Yes, well, we hadn’t quite gotten to that part of your data when we saw Athena. Due to the circumstances, the captain had no choice but to take action.”

The lift deposited them just down the corridor from Breckenridge’s office. Two marines stood outside the hatch at attention in their dress uniforms. Somehow, Jared guessed they weren’t there just to impress him. Their presence seemed in line with Breckenridge’s personality.

Meyer ignored them and rapped on the hatch. It slid open and he stepped inside. Jared followed. The marines accompanying them came in and took up positions on either side of the hatch.

The office was somewhat larger than Jared’s had been on Athena, and rather more expensively decorated. Breckenridge had replaced the regulation desk and furnishings with pricy civilian ones. There was no chair in front of the desk.

Jared took the pointed hint and centered himself in front of the desk before snapping to attention. “Commander Mertz, reporting as ordered, sir.”

Breckenridge looked up from the screen on his desk, leaned back in his chair, and scowled at Jared. “I’ve skimmed the data your tactical officer just sent, Commander. I’m only now beginning to grasp the mess you’ve landed us in. Let me see if I can sum things up before we get into the details. You’ve led us into a dangerous section of space, involved the Empire in a war it had no business being in, crippled your ship, and left us trapped with no way home. Did I miss anything important?”

Oh, yes, this meeting was going to be a pleasure.

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