Chapter 13

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PALADIN’S PREROGATIVE

Major Walker stood in front of General Lane’s desk, still trying to think of the best way to tell his commanding officer that he was moving the entire company of Cataphracts.

In a tired voice, Lane asked, “What is it Major?”

“I need to move the Cats.”

Lane raised his brow. “Really?  On whose authority?”

Walker thought one last time about his decision. He could still tell the General that his intent was to set up a garrison for the Pyramid because a Shoahn’ girl nobody knew was even alive had revealed something that nobody would believe. He wasn’t even sure he believed it himself. The line between duty and loyalty felt like something scrawled somewhere in the desert sands of Shoahn’Tu. He felt like a man staggering against the wind as it swept over that line, blurring it to the point where he didn’t know where it was anymore. The only thing he knew to be true beyond question was the terror he had seen in her eyes.

“Mine,” he said.

“Why?”

“Exercises.”

“Exercises?”

“Yes, sir.” He pressed his palms on the General’s desk and leaned forward. “Look, the truth of the matter is that you have been holding us in reserve for a while now. I’m not contesting that decision. That’s your call. But we’ve spent so much time standing around and watching that my guys are rusty. I think we know the time will come – and soon – when we are going to have to step up and help out with the close fight. We need to get ready for that.”

“So you’re requesting -“

Walker cut him off. “I’m advising you, sir. I’m advising the General that I’m taking the Cats to an undisclosed location to conceal them from the enemy while we conduct exercises.”

Lane leaned back, his face devoid of all emotion. He narrowed his eyes. “It would have been better if you had made that a request. You are under my tactical command, Major.”

“I’m only under your command during tactical operations, General. You initiate a tactical order for operations that include engagement with the enemy and we’ll be there. In the meantime, they belong to me.”

“That can change,” Lane said. “Real quick.”

“I have a responsibility, General, one that goes back long before you took over MEF. With respect, you don’t have the ability to train somebody else to do what I do. As for command, the Paladin has always been chosen by his peers. It is not an appointed command.”

“Why are you doing this, Major?  Do you feel like you have something to prove or are you just a renegade?” Lane leaned forward and smiled. “You know, I can relieve you of your command. I can also do things like convene courts martial. Traditions are fine, but there is a line and you have your foot half way over it.”

“Maybe I do have something to prove, General.” Walker unfolded his hands and held them up. The rumors he had heard about Lane’s ignorance of his own need to develop as a regimental commanding officer were turning out to be true. But Walker couldn’t wait for Lane to learn how to trust him. “I agree with Colonel Harris. You need to commit the Cats to the main line. And we’re not ready for that. Let me get them ready.”

“Well, Major, that’s starting to sound like something that resembles a request.”

Walker felt his jaw tightening. He had been the Paladin for twenty years. General Lane had been at his post for six months. Was the MEF really this short on general officers who could fill the billet?  “With respect, General, you sound like the one who has something to prove.”

Lane glared at him, jutting his chin forward. “I will take your request under advisement and let you know, Major. In the meantime, I want to know the current disposition of your Cats, their readiness state and your current supply status. If any of your men take a single step without my order, I’ll convene a court. The Cats stay put. Are we clear?”

Major Walker stood back up, letting out a sigh as he rolled his shoulder back. “General Lane, you go ahead and convene that court. In the meantime, I have training to conduct. Sir.” Before Lane could respond, he wheeled around smartly and marched out the door.

The General had been right. He had crossed a line. What the General didn’t understand, though, was that line was one of his own making, not one drawn by the MEF. If circumstances had allowed, he would have waited until the General figured it out for himself. But Walker didn’t have time for any of that. He only hoped that General Lane figured it out before it was too late.

As soon as he was back in the compound, Walker jogged to where the Cats were crouched in tight box formations at the rear of the MEF compound. He ducked into one of the tents that had sprung up behind them to find Captain Holt and the Company First Sergeant huddled over a folding table discussing the status of their supplies and ammunition.

“Top, I need a word with the XO.”

“Yes sir.” The sergeant ducked out of the tent, leaving the two of them alone.

“What’s up?” Holt asked.

Walker shook his head and sealed the tent flap. “You need to get the Cats moving to the Pyramid.”

“How soon?”

“Now.”

Holt cocked his head and then nodded once. “Alright. What about you?  You’re rig isn’t ready yet.”

“I’ll be along as soon as I can. Just get to the Pyramid.” He looked over his shoulder and then took a step towards Holt. Placing a hand on his executive officer’s shoulder, he said, “And if anybody tries to stop you -“

“I understand, sir. I didn’t think General Lane would think much of the idea.”

“Indeed, he did not.”

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence