Chapter 3

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Orders

General Lane, Shoahn’Tu Marine Expeditionary Force, commanding, sat around a green plastic table with the command staff of his regiment – all that was left of the once vaunted Colonial Marines.

All eyes were on Colonel Dekker as he scratched the green resin of the conference table top. “The Enforcer Battalion can carry the main attack,” he said. Looking around the table, he didn’t see many believers. Maybe he didn’t believe it himself, either, but it wasn’t for the same reasons they were thinking. “We’ll do the right thing.”

General Lane’s elbows were propped up on the table and he looked at Dekker with his chin resting on interlaced fingers. “What we need you to do,” he said, “is follow orders.”

Well, there it was. Wasn’t it?  After all this time, the question was still out there: Could Colonel Ben Dekker follow orders?  Or would he make his own mind up about what was important when the time came and leave the rest of the regiment in a bind?  He knew exactly what they were all thinking. They wouldn’t be launching an attack on the Highlands if he had followed orders. The colony would still be tilling its fields. You bet, and the Paladin wouldn’t have any Cataphracts. Where would we be then?  He stared back at them, thinking he might burn that thought into there minds if he glared hard enough.

“It’s different this time,” he said.

General Lane’s eyes glazed over. “Oh?”

“For one thing, there won’t be any civilians up there.”

Colonel Mason, a warrior of African descent that Dekker respected more than the rest – except for Major Walker, of course – stared at him with half closed eyes. He put his own hands on the table and interlaced his thick fingers.

“Yeah, we know.”

Dekker closed his eyes and let the air in his lungs out through his nose, but he couldn’t help it. He stood up and brought his fist down on the table hard enough to shake it. Everyone flinched, but nobody looked away or moved back. Lane held the table down with his elbows hard enough to keep his end of it from shaking.

“I was right, goddammit,” Dekker said. He looked around the room and settled his gaze on Major Walker. The commanding officer of the Cataphract company knew what he was talking about.

“You ran a good Foot Guard,” Walker said. And that’s all he said. Dekker watched the thought float around the room. There were orders, and then there was mission. Did they get that?

“Sit down,” General Lane said.

Dekker eased back into his folding plastic chair and folded his hands on the table. Lane gave him a minute to settle down his breathing and then said, “I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page here.”

Dekker fumed inside. The General had pushed a button and Dekker had barked just so he could be put in his place. Again. It wasn’t enough to ascertain that he would follow orders. No, they all had to hear, one more time, how he was an inept Marine still on probation for something that happened before General Lane was even appointed the MEF commanding officer. And yet, he was the one who was going to carry the attack. It was true: there was a difference between orders and mission. It was also true that there was a difference between giving those orders and genuine leadership.

General Lane reached for a green plastic box sitting on the table in front of him and pushed one of its buttons. A video screen hanging on the wall blinked to life to reveal a tactical chart of the Highlands.

“The mission is a deliberate attack to take back the Highlands, 500 meters beyond the MEF perimeter here.” Lane worked the cursor on the monitor and swept it across the top of the map. “Colonel Mason will take his first battalion with a platoon of armor attached and pin the left flank. Colonel Quadish will do the same on the right flank. Colonel Dekker will push right up the middle here and break the line. Once that’s accomplished, the flanking forces will enfilade the enemy and push them in towards the middle. At that point, the Guard will either have to wither while we turn their flanks or they’ll have to withdraw. Either way, we should hold the Highlands when it’s over.”

Lt. Simmons cleared her throat.

“Oh, right,” Lane said. “Simmons will take her recce platoon and scout the right flank to screen for any Terran Guard forces we aren’t already aware of.”

Dekker eyed Lt. Simmons. Her bonnet of red hair that bounced just above her shoulder – and a chest that filled out her field utility blouse in a way that no man could ignore – distracted him from the fact that she was the most capable recon leader he had ever known. But it only distracted him for a moment. He knew better. She was as deadly as she was beautiful and reminded him of what, in the simplest terms possible, they were fighting for. That didn’t mean he could trust the new commander of Bravo One Nine to keep the enemy situation up to date. That had yet to be proven. He wanted to say something about it, but he had his own merits to prove. He just blinked and looked away.

General Lane snapped off the monitor. “Any questions?”

They had been over the plan already. They had rehearsed the plan in the tacsims. Then they had discussed the results of the plan. What nobody had done was mention how bad the plan was.

Major Walker said, “Sir, if we could bring up the Cats and support the middle, I would feel a lot more confident about breaking that line.”

“Negative. We’ve been over this, Major. You will keep your Cats in reserve. I’ll assess the situation as it develops and call you up if we need you. I don’t want to expose your Cats to unnecessary risk. They’re the only ones we have.”

A very bad plan. Dekker’s neck ached as he strained to keep from shaking his head.

General Lane stood up. Everyone around the table stood up with him. “Alright then,” he said. “We’re off the LD tomorrow at zero six. Dismissed.”

Everyone eyed Dekker as they filed out of the room, but the look in their eyes had changed. Looking back at Colonel Mason, Dekker could almost hear him say, “Sorry, man.” It wouldn’t have been an apology – more like sympathy for the man who was stuck in the middle of a plan they all knew wasn’t going to work.

Both Dekker and Major Walker remained standing where they were and sat back down after the others had left.

“You can’t let him get under your skin like that,” Major Walker said.

“I know. That guy just rubs my fur the wrong way.” Dekker let his hand drop to the table with a slap. “What is it with you, anyway?  You’re not exactly Johnny Eagle Scout when it comes to following orders and he doesn’t seem to notice that.”

Walker smiled. “It’s because I have the Cats.”

“So, basically you’re saying he’s a chickenshit.”

“Something like that.”

Dekker drummed his fingers on the table. “Well, ours is not to question why -“

“Ben.” Walker’s voice was low as he fixed his gaze on Dekker. “Be careful out there. If you need to call me up -“

“I know,” Dekker said. “I know.”

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence