Location: London, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The grav-lift ride back down to Ben’s humble cubicle passed in a blur. Half of the planetary government could have gotten on and off the lift and he wouldn’t have noticed.
<Lieutenant Commander…a ship command…the Diplomatic Corps…> It was most of his dreams come true; but even though he’d been born with blue in his eyes he knew that things that were too good to be true usually were.
The grav-lift came to a halt so smoothly Ben didn’t even know it had stopped moving. “First Fleet, Personnel Department, Promotions.” The pleasant voice announced as the doors slid open into a less pleasant environment.
Ben had worked in promotions for the last six months, so he knew the organized chaos was normal. Anyone else who wandered onto the floor would be stunned by the amount of yelling and running.
“Move it or lose it, LT,” Ben had to dance to the side to avoid a Petty Officer Second Class who was navigating the floor by memory while his eyes were glued to the plastic slab of his PAD.
To some officers it would have been an insult, but Ben took it in stride. This floor was a high pressure environment. He had no doubt actual combat was stressful, but he doubted the men and women of the Infantry Corps had ever sat in a room with ninety nine other people and held the careers of an entire fleet in the palm of their hand. It was better than getting shot at, but there was a different type of incoming fire they had to deal with.
As an officer, Ben often had the pleasure of telling a more senior officer that his promotion packet wasn’t in order. Ben had never been to basic training, but he knew all too well what it was like to have senior brass contacting him and chewing him out. The fact that he was also currently a reservist didn’t help him out at all.
Ben made it to his cubicle unmolested and opened up his PAD. His meeting with Rear Admiral Helms had only lasted twenty minutes, but on top of lunch he’d been away from his desk for nearly two hours. The result was two dozen packets that he needed to work through before he headed out for the day. He was about to open the first one when the ding of an incoming message caught his attention. A quick look showed it was from Rear Admiral Helms.
If God shot you an e-mail you’d open it right away. The same was true of anything written by a flag officer. The message was short and to the point. It contained detailed instructions for the submission of Ben’s promotion packet. It told Ben who to get it to, and when to have it to them by. As if that wasn’t enough, there was also a hand written letter of recommendation from the rear admiral. A quick double check showed that the letter was also in his official personnel file.
<Well it is official.> Ben thought as he started to put things together for himself. The deadline on the packet was by close of business today. <Helms and I are in this together.>
The last line of the message made it clear. “Don’t let me down,” was written right above the rear admiral’s electronic signature.
The senior officer was delivering on his end, so now it was time for Ben to make good on his promise. Ben didn’t want to say it up front, but that was going to be a little harder than the admiral might believe.
It took Ben about half an hour to get his packet together. He double checked it to make sure that it was squared away, but he’d been doing his job long enough to know that it met all the bureaucratic standards. He encrypted the file per regulation and sent it off to the officer mentioned in the admiral’s message. Once he made sure it was sent, he got up and went to see that officer just as the admiral’s message instructed.
The door to that office was less than ten meters from Ben’s cubicle, and he was in it at least once a day. “Come on in, Lieutenant,” Commander Sarah Wythe, Ben’s immediate supervisor, waved him in before he could knock.
Her eyes were scanning her screen as Ben braced to attention in front of her. Usually she’d tell him to relax, but not today; and Ben knew it had everything to do with the promotion packet she was looking over. It wasn’t every day that you saw a flag officer’s recommendation on a young lieutenant’s packet.
“What the hell happened up there?” The question caught Ben off guard, and he didn’t know what to say.
<Do I tell her the truth?> Ben knew the admiral might have a problem with him telling a simple commander about their deal. <Do I lie?> Ben really didn’t want to lie to this woman. Aside from the shiner he’d accidentally given her earlier this afternoon, Ben had nothing but respect and admiration for his superior officer.
“Nevermind, don’t tell me.” She shook her head and held up a hand for Ben to stop. “I don’t want to know.”
“I’m going to sign off on this because if I don’t I’ll never get my third stripe,” the commander stated. “But I want you to be careful, Ben.” Ben noticed how she stopped addressing him by rank. He’d been with her long enough to know this was now a mentoring session. “Fleet politics can get really ugly, and even your pedigree might not be able to save you.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Ben made sure she knew he meant it. She’d been a good teacher in the six months he’d been under her direct supervision.
“Ok.” The commander scanned her GIC across her screen. “We’ll just need a copy of your transcripts once you finish your degree and it will be official.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Ben would check his record when he got back to his desk, but he knew he’d have a big (P) after his rank identifying his promotable status.
“Don’t thank me yet.” Her expression was serious. “A lieutenant commander doesn’t get away with the stuff a lieutenant does. You’re getting promoted ahead of your peers, so there is a lot you’re going to be expected to know that you don’t. I’ll do my best to coach and mentor you before you leave here, but know that you’ll be facing a steep learning curve wherever you go.”
The details of the arrangement weren’t obvious from the promotion packet, so the commander had no idea he was going to get a ship command. Ben would have to steer her in that direction. If what she was saying was true he’d need all the help he could get.
“Thank you, Ma’am. For everything.”
The commander simply nodded, and then her serious expression slipped. “Hand off your workload to that new LT, and get out of here. I know you have a big day tomorrow.”
Of all the things Ben expected to hear from his boss, an order to take off early wasn’t one of them.
“I know I sound like a broken record, but thank you, Ma’am.”
“Don’t mention it. Just remember little old me when you make admiral and I’m still stuck at captain.” At first, Ben didn’t know if that was a thinly veiling insult or an attempt at future patronage, but the smile on the woman’s face showed it came from a good place.
“Of course, Ma’am. An officer is only as good as the people around him.”
The remark made her grin. “See, I knew some of my words of wisdom would sink into that thick skull of yours. Now go before I change my mind.”
Ben didn’t need to be told twice. He executed a precise about-face and left the officer.