Hastings, Minnesota, United States of America
North America, Earth
3 August 2039
4 September 3059 IST
Many of the officers and personnel of the camp were gathered and ready when the helicopters appeared over the horizon. They were summoned to attention, ignoring the roar of the USAF fighters that were escorting the craft and waiting patiently for the choppers to land.
When two landed, dark-suited men stepped out, but the real guests of honor came from the right helicopter, their identities made clear by the insignia on the blue helicopter: the Seal of the President.
Everyone present recognized President Jason Andrews and Secretary of Defense Simon Barsdale. The two men were examples of contrast; Andrews' chocolate brown skin, curly graying hair, wrinkled face, and thin frame compared to Barsdale's light skin, straight dark hair combed to the side, and a younger and stouter frame. Both men were clad in business suits that were far more subdued than the sharp military uniforms worn by the attending personnel, even more so compared to the elaborate uniforms of General White and the AFFC officers with him and Precentor Durbin's immaculately-robed entourage.
The third figure to emerge from the helicopter was, unsurprisingly, General Tanner, also clad in dress uniform. Andrews proved capable of a brisk pace in approaching them. When the President was close enough Sinclair snapped a salute, prompting everyone else to do the same. Andrews stepped up to him and gave him a nod, then offered him a hand. "Colonel, a pleasure."
"An unexpected pleasure for all of us, Mister President," Sinclair stated. "My staff and officers..."
Standing opposite of Major Barsdale on Sinclair's other side, Alex had to force himself to nod and offer his hand as the President gave him a handshake, followed by the Secretary of Defense. The other Captains were next, and beyond them Rachel and a few others were present. The elder Barsdale clearly recognized her, though he was properly cordial toward her.
With this done the President and Colonel Sinclair took the lead in heading into the facility. The living areas were briefly inspected. In the infirmary, wounded personnel were offered their choice of sweet candy (which like most things were subject to ever-stricter rationing) by the President, holopics and photos being taken by the military journalist present.
Their final, and most important destination, was the 'Mech hanger. The US 'Mechs had been pained up, complete with restored unit patches, with any remnant damage glossed over. Andrews stared up at the machines with a wonder that showed through his controlled politician's demeanor. "This reminds me more than anything of the change that has come over our world."
"Agreed." Sinclair stepped up beside him, or at least beside the President's Secret Service protector.
"You and your people have kept our hopes alive," Andrews continued, speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. "When you came back from Outreach our country's hopes rode on your shoulders, and you have carried that well. You've done far better than anyone thought you would. Your nation thanks you... I thank you." Andrews took a list out of his jacket. "Please step forward when called."
The first couple of names called out were pilots from the 2nd Battalion, given Bronze Stars for their performances in keeping their units intact in the failed offensive that had wrecked VIII Corps. Roland was one of those called up, and there was a twinkle in his eye as the President found that there were already several medals dangling off his dress blues, including two Bronze Stars and a Silver Star.
Next came Major Pierce, then Captain Markenson. As Markenson stepped down, Alex noticed a bit of a twitch from the Secretary of Defense as the next name was called.
"Lieutenant Rachel Galvariz, please?"
Alex looked over to Rachel and gave her a bit of a wink to try and buoy her courage. She was very stiff and formal as she stepped up to the President. "For your success in becoming the first American BattleMech pilot to shoot down a Clan aerospace fighter, accomplished on the 2nd of July 2039, it is my great pleasure to present you, Lieutenant Galvariz, with the Silver Star." He pinned the medal to Rachel and accepted her salute in response. "Through your actions you have become an inspiration for young people across America. Thank you."
"Thank you sir," Rachel said, almost croaking the words. She saluted him again and stepped away respectfully before returning to her place in the crowd.
A sudden sick feeling came to Alex's gut, and it was confirmed a moment later when the President called his name. He almost didn't move, but feeling eyes focusing on him he stepped forward. His throat was dry as he approached the President, the duly-elected leader of his country, the enforcer of the laws he had studied and promised to protect and obey...
"Captain Penton, your performance since your return to Outreach has won you the respect of the American people and our allies across this world and others," Andrews declared. He opened a medal case and pulled out a gold-colored star-shaped medal; yet another Silver Star. "Your smashing victory at Welch Township proved that we can beat the Clans in a fair fight, but nothing can compare to your raid on the 10th behind enemy lines. Your command ended the entire Clan offensive and bought us time to move in reinforcements and improve our defenses. For these actions it is my pleasure to award you the Silver Star." Alex stood still and allowed the President to pin the medal on his uniform.
Unfortunately, as the extra case in the hands of Secretary of Defense Barsdale indicated, it wasn't over. "Additionally, after you accomplished all those actions, you added to the day's victory by calling down an artillery barrage on your position, resulting in the destruction of fifteen enemy BattleMechs and the elimination of the Jade Falcon military commander. For this accomplishment, performed at extreme risk to your life, it is my further pleasure to award you the Distinguished Service Cross." The President took out the bronze cross with blue, red, and white ribbon, the eagle and wreath prominent in the middle and the inscription on the scroll below reading "FOR VALOR". "The American people thank you for the risks you have taken and the courage you have shown in the defense of our homeland."
"My only concern, Mister President, is to do my duty," Alex answered simply.
"So you do." Andrews offered his hand, and Alex took it for a good handshake. "Good luck out there."
The President had departed with General Tanner for his tour of the Twin Cities, leaving Secretary Barsdale to have some private time with his nephew. They were in Patrick's quarters, a small bottle of Scotch on the table. "The benefits of being in the Cabinet," Simon assured his nephew, offering him a glass. "I'm sorry the President wasn't here to pin a medal on you, Patrick. God damn that General Tolen..."
Barsdale gave a stiff nod. "Yes. And I'm worried about what the effect will be of his remarks toward Captain Penton."
"You made your opinion quite clear in your letters to me and your father," Simon pointed out, pouring his own glass. "But you have to realize that in this war, a man like Penton is worth an entire division. America needs heroes."
"But the Army doesn't need gloryhounds," Patrick countered. "Two of his peers in the battalion have already petitioned Major Pierce for his removal from company command."
Simon Barsdale looked at his nephew carefully while taking a sip of the Scotch. "My boy.... I know you've gone out of your way to avoid needing my influence or your father's. I hope you're not allowing the presence of that young lady to cloud your judgement."
"No, my judgement is clear, sir," Patrick insisted. "Just two weeks ago he put our entire brigade in danger by failing to keep his line intact. He was more worried about looking good to the FedComs. At best, he's well-intentioned but completely over his head. At worst, he's seeing stars and wants to win glory."
"He seemed pretty humble to me." Simon carefully considered his glass. "And honestly, Patrick, I can't help but feel that you're gunning for him because you're afraid he'll get the nod for the 3rd Battalion and not you."
Patrick opened his mouth to speak but couldn't for several moments. In that time Simon took another drink and continued. "You are the light of your father's eye, Patrick, and God knows I love my little brother a lot. But there are more important things at stake than your ego. It got you into trouble over that Hispanic girl and it's going to get you into trouble here. Just because we have influence doesn't mean we can protect you if you pit yourself against the most popular combat officer in the United States."
"Uncle, if you'll just consider getting him re-assigned," Patrick urged. "The BattleMech Training Command could use Outreach-trained personnel..."
He was interrupted by Simon smacking his hand to the table. "Dammit, Patrick, this isn't about your career. I am not going to help you wage a one man..."
At that moment Patrick produced a paper, with a number of signatures on it, the most prominent being Captains Hendricks and Markenson. Simon didn't need his glasses to read what it was; a statement denouncing Captain Penton's combat command ability and his decisions, most importantly the near disaster of the 20th. "Just what the hell are you doing?", Simon asked.
"It's not just me, Uncle," Patrick said. "The man has turned half his battalion against him, including two company commanders and several platoon officers. Major Pierce isn't too hot on him either, but he's deferring to Colonel Sinclair, and frankly I think Sinclair has an emotional investment in Penton for how well they worked together in exercises on Outreach. It's the only way to explain why he's so resolute in supporting Penton in everything."
"So you're actually going to do this, Patrick?" Simon put the cap back on the Scotch, a way of showing how the conversation had changed. "You're going to try and start a media frenzy? Have you considered how much of the media will see it as jealous officers trying to tear down a war hero?"
"And how much of the media is still so reflexively anti-war that they can't resist tearing down military heroes? CNN might ignore it, but MSNBC? The Huff Post? Hell, if they find anything liberal enough in his background, even Fox might be willing to tear into him." Patrick shook his head. "Uncle, I don't like it, but it has to be done. Penton's a menace, and he's going to underrmine our defensive efforts. Especially if Sinclair gives him a whole damn battalion to destroy. We have to get him out of the way."
Simon put a hand on his chin. "God, you're going way too far with this Patrick. Honestly, if I didn't know better I'd think you were trying to maneuver that Lieutenant back into your direct comm..."
"What?!" It was Patrick's turn to thump the table. "I don't want anything to do with her! That manipulative bitch almost ruined my career!"
Simon smirked at his nephew's outburst. I doth think you protest too much, Pat, he contemplated, but didn't say out loud. Truth be told he didn't much like Lt. Galvariz either, having seen enough co-eds like her who reflexively bought liberal propaganda wholesale and who flaunted their sexuality and acted surprised when men got interested. But he knew his nephew enough to know he'd gotten too close to the flame and gotten burnt for it. "Alright, alright..." Simon sighed, trying to think of how to deal with this situation. Patrick was right was that there were plenty of types who would tear Penton down just to embarrass the military, the Administration, or just for the media attention. "To get the military on board, you need more than his peers. You need Penton's subordinates. You need the platoon commanders."
"Well, there's no way Dane goes against him, that maverick likes the freedom Penton grants him too much," Patrick mused. "But Roland...."
"Ah, Lieutenant Roland? Yes. Someone of his background and experience telling us that Penton's unfit for his command would do it, even without Dane" Simon answered. "But it needs to be done quietly if it can be, Patrick. If this goes public it could get messy, it could get political, and the President is genuinely enthused about Penton enough that he could force the issue in his favor. Get Roland behind you and get Penton to agree to a transfer. It's how it has to be done."
"Thank you, Uncle."
"Don't thank me, dammit," Simon hissed. "I don't want you doing this. I'd be telling you to knock it off if I didn't think you might be right and if I thought you'd listen. If you're going to get it done, get it done clean and get it done fast, because the absolute last God-damned thing we need is for you to undermine your unit's morale when the enemy is already starting their next push."
"I'll get it done immediately," Patrick promised.
Simon almost said something further, but for the sake of family he held his tongue. God knew he loved his nephew as a son, but John had spoiled the boy too much...
Roland had decided to celebrate his Bronze Star in grand fashion; boxing practice. And after teaching a couple bluebloods from the FedCom and a ComGuard the finer points of Corps boxing practice, he was winding down at the punching bag to work on his technique for the next time he took on Dani (and he knew there'd be a next time).
"You were on the Marine boxing team for a while, right?"
Roland heard Barsdale's voice and suppressed the urge to groan. He stopped punching and reached for a towel. "Yeah, on and off through the 10s and 20s. Whenever I wasn't getting shot at."
"I was on the team at West Point in my second year, had to let it go to concentrate on academics," Barsdale admitted. He walked up beside Roland and looked around at the mostly empty gym. "Can I have a moment of your time, Lieutenant?"
"After I shower, sir," Roland answered gruffly, getting a nod in reply.
Roland's shower was extra long this time, but despite his best efforts he still found Barsdale waiting for him outside. Seeing that the Major was serious, Roland followed him back to his office. "I'm sorry about Corporal Schulter," Barsdale said. "Another good kid who's life's been destroyed."
"I know losing MacGruder was bad as well."
"Sir, I got used to losing fine young people when I was still just a plain old Sergeant. By the time you make Gunny it's something you just accept," Roland answered, lying a bit in doing so. He still had dreams about all the young Marines he lost across the globe....
Barsdale nodded. "And now we could lose more of them."
"Is this going somewhere, Major? Because with all due respect, it sounds like you're building up to a pitch of some kind with a bullshit officer speech, and this Marine is too old for that crap."
There was a moment of silence. "Sorry, sometimes I forget about jarhead impatience." Barsdale went to his seat. "The next cadre from Outreach is already burning in, and we'll be up to three battalions. I'm in line for one of them. I'd like to know if you're interested in getting into my unit. I could swing for you to get a company command..."
Roland thought about that for a moment. Captains weren't always in supply for the cadres, and a few of the first cadre's captains had been promoted due to scores in tactical command on Outreach - Captain Westin had been one of them - to fill in the ranks. He certainly had the combat experience, though.
But he also knew Barsdale was up to something. He could see it in him. "You're sure that they have an open company spot," he asked carefully.
"I know how to guarantee there's one," Barsdale answered bluntly. He put his hands together. "Penton almost got you killed. He almost got our unit annihilated. If you sign off on a protest against his command, I can get him removed from the combat unit."
For a moment Roland stared at Barsdale. Some of it was from pure bewilderment, but he supposed that made sense; Uncle Simon had just shown up, hadn't he? "So that's what it is? I get Penton shitcanned, you give me a company," Roland asked quietly.
"And it ensures you get 3rd Battalion," Roland concluded. He felt a sudden turn in his stomach, and it was pure disgust. "You're doing this to get him out of the way so you can have a battalion again."
"I'm doing this, Lieutenant, to get an incapable officer off the field before he costs us lives, maybe even the battle and with it the war," Barsdale answered. "Now, I'm going to arrange a meeting with him tonight. Can you be there?"
Roland bit into his lip. "Yeah, I can be. Permission to be dismissed?" When he got the nod, he stomped out, not sure of what else to do.
Oh, he thought Penton should've started at platoon command and worked up from there, sure. The man needed to learn how to command. And getting a chance to protect Barker and Eli better was something he wanted to see. But this... this felt wrong. This felt slimy. This felt like politics.
And Roland hated politics.
As always, there was paperwork. Alex had been used to it as a JAG lawyer and still hated it. He hated it more now. At least that paperwork was legal briefs, involving analysis of the law and of cases, things that stimulated this mind. This was... drudgery. Requistion forms. Reports. Personnel reviews.
There were times he wanted to be back at JAG.
Thankfully he had Rachel to help with it, letting him know what was important to read and what he could just sign off on. Having her smile at his bad jokes made the experience all the better, even if he tried not to dwell on the fact that he was getting to like her far too much.
The sun was already low in the sky when the paperwork was finished, but before they could do much more there was a knock at the door. Rachel went over and opened it as Alex stood. Dane entered, with a familiar agitated look to him, and behind him was Lieutenant Sonya Samari of Charlie Company. The solid Brooklyn woman was wearing her hair in a pony-tail today, bright blue eyes focused and intent, not to mention rather agitated as well. "Lieutenant, what can I do for you?", Alex asked.
"They're trying to shitcan you, Alex," Dane growled.
With a touch of bewilderment Alex looked to him. "What?"
"Captain Markenson blames you for the battering we took," Sonya explained. "He's working with Hendricks and going around getting the other platoon commanders to sign some statement saying you've got to be removed or the battalion will be demoralized."
Rachel's face darkened. "It's Barsdale, Alex, it has to be him."
Alex drew in a sigh and leaned against his desk. "Well, the Army's not a democracy, every single one of you could demand my removal and Pierce could say no."
"Yeah, but you know how things work, Captain. They release this to some journo, or slip it past the censors to get it on a blog, and you've got the country hearing about how its 'Mech unit is falling apart because nobody likes you." Samari shook her head. "I had Perkins ask me to sign it. Fucking Mormon bitch - oh Lord, please forgive me" - she crossed herself out of habit - "actually thought I'd rat on you too. I told her to shove it. But there were a lot of names on that list."
"That fucking asshole Markenson, I oughta go whup his fucking ass." Dane crossed his arms. "I say we go to the Colonel. He'll put a stop to this bullshit."
"It won't end the threat," Alex sighed. "If they make a fight of this, with Barsdale backing them? Even if I win, the unit's morale gets torn to shreds and we'll fold like cheap paper when the Clans and Seppies start north again. This has to be handled quietly, just between us."
"Alex, you know how most of them feel about you." Rachel was shaking her head and looking like she was getting sick. "They never liked you. You've got no choice but to go with Samari and see Major Pierce."
"And what will that solve, Rachel? Hendricks and Markenson will still despise me. All of those officers who signed this statement will still think I nearly got them wiped out. The only way to solve this is to address them directly, let them air their grievance and respond to it."
"This isn't going to be a fucking courtroom, Alex," Dane retorted. "The deck's stacked against you, man! Go fight them!"
"Dammit, Ed, I'm not ripping the unit apart, then I really wouldn't deserve my command," Alex responded hotly. He reached over for his phone. "I'm calling Hendricks. Let's do this now."
Roland was seated by himself for dinner chow when Barker walked up. She was doing better now, slowly coming to terms with Cal's mutilation. They'd been fairly close, even if they were so diametrically opposed in politics and upbringing. Cal being turned into a quadriplegic was not a happy ending for that. "You look deep in thought, Lieu. And that's saying something for you."
"Yeah." Roland drew in a breath. "You ever look at Cal and think it was Penton's fault?"
Barker froze for the moment. Then she let out a sad sigh and said, "Well... at first. But fuck, dog, it's war. This shit happens. The Captain left us out on a string but he damn sure fixed the problem, and nearly got killed doing it."
"Yeah." Roland took a bite of cheap processed mashed potatoes covered in cheap processed brown gravy. "Penton needs seasoning, but he's got some potential."
"One of the Sarges in Charlie Company says that Penton won't be around much longer. They gonna get him shitcanned."
Roland nodded slowly. "Yeah, heard something about that. Whole battalion thinks he got us fucked over at Kenyon. Even if it ended up being a good thing. We gave the Seppies a good pounding when Penton turned the tables on them."
"Half of Charlie Company's ready to say good riddance, they lost four pilots from that fight y'know."
"Yeah." Roland thought back to what Barsdale had said. It was clear the unit was swinging against his commander. As much as he liked to think Marines were above this bullshit, he'd seen enough service politics even in the Corps to know better. He didn't like it, though.
And Barsdale wanted him to be there to stick the knife in.
Barker was not saying anything more, but she was clearly in thought. Roland had no chance to give voice to his thoughts, though, as from behind her he saw Hendricks come up. "Penton's asked us to meet with him, Roland. I think he knows we're trying to get him removed. You up to come and see this through?"
"I'll come," Roland said simply. He noticed the look on Barker's face. "It'll be alright, Sergeant. The right thing will be done." He got up and followed Hendricks out.
Alex was accompanied by Rachel, Samari, and Dane when they reached the conference room. Usually it was for Colonel Sinclair and the local Inner Sphere commanders to meet and discuss things with the Major-level officers, but right now it was vacant with everyone in Minneapolis for briefing the President and meeting with 3rd Army HQ. Inside Hendricks and Markenson were waiting, as were several officers from the other companies. One, Lieutenant Esther Perkins by name, gave a dirty look to Samari when she saw Samari was present, and Markenson was clearly displeased to see her as well. Unsurprisingly, Major Barsdale was seated at the head of the table.
Sitting beside him was Lieutenant Roland.
Dane and Rachel would have incinerated Roland on the spot if their glares could project heat. Alex looked at him and tried not to give any sign of his thoughts. Roland was 2nd Battalion. It wasn't shocking Barsdale would bring him into this. And while they seemed to have been improving things lately, he was sure Roland blamed him for Corporal Schulter's maiming. Even if he hadn't...
We need to get this done, one way or another. I won't let this cloud hang over our unit any longer.
"Lieutenant Samari let me know that you had all lost faith in my capabilities as a commander," he said simply.
"You assume we had it, because I damned well didn't," Markenson snarled. "You're a fucking joke, a lawyer who sucked up to Sinclair and got made his golden boy, then you got lucky and let it go to your head. You got my pilots hurt out there, 'war hero', and I'll be damned if I take my people back out into action knowing we have to rely on the likes of you to keep us alive. My whole company feels the same way."
"Speak for yourself, Captain," Samari hissed. "I fought with Captain Penton in the raid into Faribault. He's no worse than you are. If I had my way I'd be in Alpha Company."
Markenson's nostrils flared, but a look from Hendricks and Barsdale kept him from reacting. Hendricks breathed in a sigh. "Listen, Penton, you're not a bad guy. You're doing your best, but it's honestly not enough. The unit's lost faith in you. There's only one way this can end."
"You want me gone," Alex remarked, looking from Hendricks to Barsdale. "I guess that's why he's here?"
"They asked me to help out in picking new possible assignments for you," Barsdale answered. It wasn't necessarily a lie.... but Alex was sure it wasn't the whole truth. "Training Command could use Outreach-trained pilots, you know. Fort Knox is a great posting..."
"I was there already before Outreach," Alex reminded him.
"Alternatively, since I know the Colonel values your input..." Barsdale was clearly ready to choke over that. "You can take my post. You'll get a promotion in the process, and you'll be there to help him deal with tactical issues."
"But I won't be out on the battlefield, where I can actually make a difference," Alex pointed out. "You know damn well how much gets determined by who's on the spot."
"Stop dicking around with him," Markenson grumbled. "You're a fucking albatross, lawyer, you need to go back to writing briefs and leave us to fight the war."
"I'll let Major Pierce and Colonel Sinclair make that decision," Alex retorted.
"Why drag it out, Captain?" Barsdale shook his head. "Look who's here. Two out of three of the other company commanders...."
"Maybe someone should call Yefim, then," Rachel said, referring to Captain Samsonov. "See what he has to say."
"....six platoon commanders," Barsdale continued, ignoring her interruption pointedly. "Even if you resist, even if you stay.... you're trashing the unit's morale, Captain. They simply don't trust you, and we don't have the luxury to let you regain that trust. If you go out there with us, the other companies will be so busy looking over their shoulders at what you're doing they'll miss what the enemy's doing. We could lose the battle. We could lose the war."
"Then maybe you shouldn't be encouraging them!", Rachel shouted in response. "You're not doing this as a favor, you're doing this because you're jealous of Alex!"
Some eyes turned toward her. "Rather informal with him, aren't you?", Barsdale asked. He looked to Alex. Alex was trying to remain neutral, but he knew this was a bad logjam. There was little luxury for transfers to sort things out, not with every 'Mech needed here at Minneapolis. I'm just one man, if they've all lost faith in me maybe it's better.... no! No, I'm not going to think like that.
Barsdale could see his words were having an effect, though. He recovered from his brief exchange with Rachel and directed his words at Alex again. "What about your subordinates? You're directly responsible for their lives, so let's see what they think."
"I think you're an asshole, Major," Dane barked.
There was no response from Barsdale as he looked to Roland. "Lieutenant Roland, as a decorated combat veteran of thirty years.... do you have any trust in Captain Penton's combat command abilities? Tell us what you think?"
All eyes turned to Roland.
He didn't seem to care. He simply sat there, as if in deep thought. His head raised and he made direct eye contact with Alex. Alex kept looking at him, wondering what the crusty old Marine would do, if he would join this little revolt and make it the epic morale clusterfuck it was shaping up to be.
Roland turned his eyes from Alex to Barsdale. "What I think, Major, is that Lieutenant Dane is right." Roland smirked in amusement. "You're an asshole."
For a moment it looked like Barsdale was going to gag. The room was oppressive with stunned silence.
Roland put an end to that.
"What I think, Major, is that Captain Penton was a lawyer staff weenie," Roland continued. "What I think is that he should have been eased into command with a platoon command first, but you know, I'm not going to bitch because he wasn't. Command's a hard course and combat's a bitch of a teacher who'll kill you sooner than let you learn. Captain Penton's managed to survive what the bitch-teacher of the Dear School has been teaching, and more than that he's brought a lot of his people out alive, which is more than I can say of any of you whiny fuckers here!" Despite the exclaimation and raised voice, Roland's tone was still on the calm side, not at all what you'd expect a gung-ho, oohrah Marine Gunnery Sergeant to employ if you didn't know him better. "I think this is fucking pathetic, and for all the bullshit military politics I've seen in my years this takes the fucking cake. This is fucking whiny jealousy out of hand and turning into a clusterfuck, while our country is under direct threat of being wiped off the face of the fucking world. In short, what I think, Major, is that you and Markenson and Hendricks and Perkins and everyone else here should knock off this horseshit and get back to our duty, which is showing the Clanners and Seppies the fucking door."
Roland stood. He looked over to Alex. "Sir, I'll be seeing you tomorrow to continue our discussions. Looking forward to joining you on the field again. You're doing a good job getting the hang of command. The next time you find out any whiny fuckers like these are going behind your back, take it up with your superior and let the Army sort their asses out. Doing otherwise just encourages them." With that said, he left without another word.
There was silence for a bit. Markenson was still clearly wound up, and Barsdale was running a hand through his hair like he was trying to think of what to do, but Alex was tired of this too. "Listen, if you want to ask for transfer to one of the other battalions when the next cadre comes, that's your business," he said aloud. "But I'm not asking to leave the unit. I believe I can do the most good here. If you disagree, do whatever you want to."
At that, Alex turned and walked out, with Dane, Rachel, and Samari following.
It had all gone wrong. Barsdale hadn't been sure of Roland's stance, but he had hoped the man's instincts as a vet would see what he saw. He's just a trumped up NCO, that's the problem...
"So that's it, huh?" Markenson frowned. "We gotta release the statement."
"No." Hendricks smacked a hand on the table. "Maybe we need to consider things a bit more. Roland's right, we've got more important things to worry about."
"Speak for yourself, Hendricks, you didn't get your company mauled up from that lawyer's incompetence," Markenson growled.
"And you think this will solve anything?!", Hendricks shot back. "God dammit, any day the Clans and ENU might resume their attack. We can't afford this shit. Penton's not going to fold, and I'm starting to think he's right for it. I'm not sure about him, but I know that if I let it bug me we're just helping the enemy. I'm done with this." He got up and walked out.
Markenson looked to Barsdale. "Well, Major, what next? Know any journos we can hand this note to?"
"He's right, it's over," Barsdale answered. He took the statement and ripped it apart, watching some of the others already leaving. "I'm not going to destroy the battalion's morale over this."
"You fucking dickless...." Markenson pounded his fist on the table, a lot harder than Hendricks' strike had been. "I'll fucking do it then!"
"You're only going to get yourself shitcanned if you do, Markenson," Barsdale warned. "it's over, it didn't work, live with it."
"That fucking sonovabitch gets my people killed and that's all we have to show for it?!" He jumped up out of his seat. "I'll go to Pierce myself then. It's Penton or me."
At that Barsdale chuckled. "I wonder what he'll pick." But Markenson didn't hear him, so angry that he just stormed out.
For his part, Barsdale left the conference room after locking it up and began walking to the officer area. He'd made his pitch and it had failed. His uncle's advice was solid; drop it. He'd been tempted to leak the statement, but that was the temptation of ego. Barsdale wasn't going to wreck the unit to get rid of Penton, that'd do far more damage than anything Penton might do.
Though now he had something else, potentially, and he wanted to investigate it. He found himself at Penton's office shortly thereafter. Before he could knock, he heard footsteps and turned to face them. Rachel was standing there, a folder under on arm. Her expression turned stiff. "Major, what can I do for you?"
"You never called me Patrick," he answered.
"Even when I took you to dinner, it was 'Major'," Barsdale continued. "You never addressed me by my first name, but you're talking to Captain Penton like he's a friend from school?"
"Well, I am his aide," Rachel reminded him. "And he's rather informal when we're in private. It was a slip of the tongue, actually, since it's only when we're in private."
"I see." Barsdale crossed his arms, his mind going through the possibilities. A new, strong sense of jealousy rose sharply within him. "So, are you sleeping with him?"
Rachel's jaw dropped open. She looked at him like he was mad, and incoherently stammered for a few seconds afterward until she managed as hoarse whisper of "What?"
"Are you sleeping with Captain Penton?", Barsdale asked pointedly.
For a moment, Barsdale thought he saw her arm tense, and he instinctively prepared himself to get punched or slapped. But it didn't happen.
"Excuse me, Major?"
The voice came from behind; Barsdale has been so intent on Rachel's reaction he hadn't heard the door open. He looked his shoulder to see Penton standing there, actually looking over him by about four inches, arms crossed and a displeased look on his phase. "Captain," Barsdale answered simply.
"It's not enough that you jeopardized the cohesion of the battalion to try and get me shitcanned, now you're harrassing my aide and dredging up false charges of inappropriate fraternization?" Penton frowned. "Major, I've tried to be civil, I've tried to show respect, but I'm honestly tired of this."
"You do seem rather informal with her," Barsdale managed to say.
"We served on Outreach together. She's my aide, and we spend long hours going through paperwork. Yes, we are on a first name basis. No, we are not 'sleeping together'. Our relationship is strictly professional. Now, I understand if you had trouble maintaining such professionalism with her when she was under your command..."
A light went off in Barsdale's head. His face reddened and he glared up at Penton. That smug bastard, what has she told him?! "Captain, as a lawyer I'm sure you're familiar with the standards of slander," Barsdale warned him.
"I am. I'm also very familiar with the UCMJ and what it says about appropriate behavior with subordinates of the opposite sex," Penton answered gruffly. "As I imagine you are now, having crossed that line before."
"So that's it, huh? That's how it's going to be?", Barsdale hissed. "You don't fuck with me on something like this, Captain. I'm willing to accept you surviving in your command, but you don't insult me to my face and have me walk away like nothing happened."
"Is that a threat, Major?"
"No, Captain. It's a promise." At that he stormed away, trying to keep his temper from exploding.
That smug, sanctimonious bastard.... Barsdale wasn't going to let that slide. Penton would slip up one day, and when he did.... he'd pay in spades.
After Barsdale was gone Alex and Rachel returned to the officer. Rachel set the folder on the desk and began rubbing her forehead. "Oh god oh god.... Alex, you shouldn't have said those things."
Alex slipped back into his chair. "What?"
"Fuck, Alex! You should've shooed him away, not pissed him off! Oh God..." Rachel slumped into her seat. "His family is vicious when they're slighted. You've made yourself enemies for life."
"Well, you know what they say about judging people by their enemies..."
"Dammit Alex!" Rachel leaned against the desk. "Oh God, you don't realize... Alex, do you know what happened after I accused him of sexual harrassment?"
"Investigation officially chalked it up to misunderstanding," Alex answered. "So the explanation was. Unofficially the investigating JAG officers believed he was guilty of violations of the military code, but some politicians in Washington made a few phone calls indicating willingness to support certain military initiatives in Congress if only their good friend's son's indiscretion was handled in-house, so it was."
Rachel stared at him for a moment. "...how?"
Alex smirked. "Rachel, you filed charges against the nephew of the Secretary of Defense and the son of a former US Congressman who had served on the House Armed Services Committee. Almost every lawyer in JAG knew about the case one way or another."
"Did they tell you what happened to me after that?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Of course not," Rachel grumbled. She rubbed her forehead. "I got kicked out of my section in SigInt. I got sent to fucking Wainwright, Alex."
Alex blanched. He'd thankfully avoided assignment to Alaska.
"And word got around. You know what it's like to be a sexual harrassment victim, you get plenty of assholes who assume that it was just me being slutty and seductive and leading someone on! And the weather, oh God the weather..." Rachel took in a breath to calm herself. "I was actually thankful to pass the neuro-aptitude tests. It meant getting out of Alaska." She groaned. "And now you've pissed them off. It might not be soon, but eventually it's going to come back to bite you, Alex."
"Let it," Alex grumbled. "He had it coming. And we have a war to win first."
It was late when the vehicle carrying Colonel Sincliar returned to Jurgens. He was intending to go finish up a couple things in his office and head to his quarters, but found himself met at the door by Major PIerce. "Major?"
"I have a problem, Colonel, and it's with your Chief of Staff," Pierce said succinctly. "He's meddling with my unit."
Sinclair stopped just inside the door and looked to Pierce with bewilderment. "What's going on?"
"He's been instigating my officers to turn on Captain Penton to pressure him into transferring out of his combat command," Pierce answered. "One of the lieutenants present for their meeting tonight warned me, just before I had Captain Markenson barging in demanding I re-assign Penton or re-assign him."
Sinclair drew in a sigh.
"For the record, whenever we send 'Mech units to Wainwright for arctic training, I'm putting Markenson's name at the top of the list," Pierce added.
"I would too." Sinclair continued walking along. "Well, you needn't worry about Barsdale much longer. The next cadre will be here in three days. They only have one battalion commander, so Barsdale's getting 3rd Battalion."
"I thought Penton was at the top of the list?", Pierce asked.
Sinclair shook his head. "After reviewing the AARs on Kenyon, HQ's decided that Captain Penton's command performance is insufficient to merit a battalion. He's remaining with you."
Pierce gave a nod in reply. "I'm actually a little pleased by that. I think he needs more time as well."
"There wasn't much argument," Sinclair agreed. "I think he's got the most potential of our current company commanders."
"I'll agree, even if I'm leery about all this war hero stuff. There's no way he should have gotten the DSC that fast, even though he deserved it."
"The country wants war heroes, and he's given them one. Now, Major, I'd like to put things up and get some much deserved shuteye." Sinclair's expression stiffened. "We might have a couple weeks at the very most according to intel. Then we're going to have two Clan Galaxies and an entire ENU Army coming for us."
"We'll be ready for them," Pierce promised, though he wasn't entirely sure of that himself.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia
American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.
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