Small Talks - Part 3 "Reunion"
Episode 3 - The Future That Was
Location: Reception Room, USS Themyscira in Orbit of Andoria
Timeline: Mid 2412 (Alpha)
[Previously on Small Talks - Part 2]
. . . . . .
Hans looked defeated as the wind went out of his proverbial sails. The incident of Carus II haunted him the remainder of his days in the SFMC. Many of his friends thought that that incident alone prevented him from receiving a star. Its mention brought back emotions he would rather have left buried in the past.
"Four years ago..." the German said softly, his usual authoritative voice now hollow with regret "...it was during a reunion of those who served aboard the USS Bunker Hill under Admiral Lee . . . . . ."
. . . . . .
[Four Years Ago]
"To be honest, I'm more of a Tankesh person." Said Oliver as he took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. "Her works have this unsettling and yet uplifting sense of wonder and innocence."
Amira smiled politely. "Innocence and wonderment are in short supply these days, sir. If we are looking for the most representative writer of our times, perhaps Tankesh is not the most eligible candidate."
Oliver drank from his glass, nodding pensively. "One can dream, Professor. One can dream." That was when he noticed a mildly pale skinned man with piercing blue eyes walking inside the reception room, every step exuding the same confidence and poise with which he had once walked the hallways of the Themyscira as well as those of the Bunker Hill.
"Excuse me, Professor, I'm afraid I have another guest to welcome. Shall we continue our conversation later?"
Oliver returned the smile before turning to greet his former marine CO.
Colonel Adlerstein made eye contact with his former skipper and made his way through the crowd to greet him.
"Mr. Adlerstein, I'm glad you can make it." Said Oliver as he extended his arm for a firm handshake.
"Of course Skipper, good to see you." the German Marine said as he took the offered hand in his right and placed his left hand on Lee's right elbow to make the handshake a little less formal and more friendly. It was not quite up to par with a "bro hug" but it was a simple show of the respect and esteem Adlerstein had for his former skipper from two vessels now. He also had several Captains since then, but only Lee did he still call Skipper, despite the enclosed admiral's pips he now wore.
"I'm sorry my wife couldn't make it." the German apologized.
"No apology necessary." Said Oliver with a smile. "I was the one who rescheduled the reunion after all." Another sip of his champagne, he continued, "How's the leave so far? I hope you are having some well deserved family time."
Hans looked down into his drink for a second, as if expecting life's answers to be found there.
"All I seem to have time for nowadays sir." the german Marine said sadly.
"Why the sad face?" Asked the gray haired admiral. "You deserve a break, Hans. Besides we could all use a little reminder once in a while that there's more to life than this war."
"True sir; but the circumstances of my leave are less than desirable, as I'm sure you've heard."
Oliver drank from his glass and considered his words. "Carus II was a battlefield, and like any battlefield, it was chaotic. The front lines kept shifting for months, and the Dominions' jamming devices didn't help with clear communication, either. I read the report by the review board as well as all the witness testimonies, yours included. It was a terrible thing what happened to the convoy, but you made a reasonable call based on known circumstances and available intel. It would not be easy to make a case against you. Besides, given the war situation, Command is not at all eager to deprive Starfleet of experienced veterans such as yourself, certainly not one who hasn't done anything wrong."
"Tell that to Lieutenant General Bolanus sir; from what I hear, he has been lashing out in grief since the loss of his niece. He's one of our best field commanders and one of the few living recipients of three Distinguished Star Crosses. His voice carries weight among the Corps, and latest scuttlebutt* says that he's being pegged for another star, maybe even Field Marshall if this war goes on long enough."
Even through his bitter voice, the name of Bolanus was said with great reverence and respect. All bets placed Bolanus as eventually succeeding Field Marshall Peter Zhukov as Commandant of the Starfleet Marine Corps if he kept at his current pace. Even if he didn't, he would almost certainly receive a bust in the Hall of Heroes outside SFMC HQ in San Fransisco. The Starfleet Marine's most sacred place, it contained memorabilia from several key battles reflecting the glory and history of the Corps, among them busts of some of their most revered and decorated Soldiers, NCOs, and officers.
Oliver ran his hand through his graying hair and said, "General Bolanus is not just a war hero, Hans. He is a good man, an honest man." A pause. "But I suppose even good and honest men are not immune to grief and . . . . . ." His voice trailed off as he looked away for a brief moment. "I'd offer to talk to the General, but we have some very . . . different views on many things. Besides it's a time of grieving for him, he might . . . I don't want to make things worse for you."
"Thanks anyway for the offer Skipper. Hopefully we can just come through this thing with my honor and career intact, what else am I gonna do, work for NBMF?" Adlerstein said half-jokingly.
The NBMF was the New Berlin Merchant Fleet, or in German, Neue Berlin Handel Flotte** or, as a word, NeBerHanFlo (Neighbor-Han-Flow). Every New Berlin citizen that entered Starfleet was given the equivalent rank in the all-German fleet as a courtesy. After retirement from Starfleet, they were offered a job at the equivalent rank and experience either in security, if a Marine, or in the fleet, if a naval officer. But their rank system was often the butt of jokes for their grandiousness. For example, it was joked that every naval officer in the NBMF was a captain of some kind; a Lieutenant Commander was a Korvetten Kapitaen***, or, literally, Corvette Captain for example. The ranks were holdovers from the days of sailing vessels from the Old German navy.
Oliver shook his head with a chuckle. "I'm sure it won't come to that, Hans. But in the unlikely event it did, I heard the NBMF offers very generous benefit packages, and their annual galas are one of the few places you can still find the most authentic Rinderroulade among other delicacies. Better than Fleet rations, that's for sure."
Hans snorted contemptously. "What they call German food would make my mother keel over and die from embarassment Skipper. All the same, I'd rather stay a Marine."
The aging German took a sip of his drink.
"What about you Admiral? I hear rumor you might see yet another pip on that enclosed collar." Adlerstein joked good-naturedly.
Sometimes Hans regretted that their ranks were never the same; they might have been very good friends otherwise. Not to say they didn't like each other; Lee would never have asked for Hans to serve with him aboard his next command if that were the case, nor would he have pinned first Major and then Lieutenant Colonel rank on him while they served together. They trusted each other, looked out for one another, in fact, each had saved the other's life at least twice. Hans looked up to Lee, considered him a mentor, and Adlerstein was even sponsoring his daughter's admission packet to the Academy. Still, those first few years of harsh discipline and adherence to protocol that he got in the Reserve Marine Corps were still with him, and old habits died hard; the old German would have never even thought to call the Flag Officer 'Oliver', or, God help him, 'Ollie'.
When he was younger, there were few things Oliver wanted more than rising through to the apex of the admiralty. To some degree he still wanted that, but his pride and vanity - traits that once helped spur him onto ever greater heights - had been humbled and bruised ever since the demise of Brigadier Zika and her task force at Merida IV eight years ago. That was when he realized that his own hubris had cost so many their lives and brought upon the Federation a protracted and terrible war that would cost hundreds of thousands more.
Of course, he was not personally responsible for the Meridan disaster, but he was the one who had convinced Command and the Federation Council of the necessity of preemptive strikes against Dominion weapons facilities on Merida IV and elsewhere deep inside Dominion territory in order to prevent the Founders from acquiring a new type of weapon of planetary destruction. It turned out his intel was gravely flawed, and the preemptive strikes commenced the very war that they had meant to prevent, a cruel irony that had weighed heavily on his conscience ever since.
As such, one more pip on "that enclosed collar" did not bring him the same excitement or the same sense of fulfillment as it would have before. A small part of him even regretted ever accepting that promotion to the admiralty. He missed being a captain of his own ship with nothing to worry but his own crew and his own mission. Now, the Bunker Hill was someone else' command; even the Themyscira was technically someone else'. What did he still have? A guilty conscience and a burning need to repent.
Handing his empty glass to a passing waiter, he took another for himself. Having missed the humor in the marine's question, he said, somewhat sarcastically, "Well, the President doesn't trust sector commands to anyone without four stars on their flags. Apparently the safety of the Federation all depends on that magical number."
That was when he realized that the news of his promotion had not in fact been made public. "Wait, how did you . . ." Then he saw the silliness of his own question and shook his head with a small chuckle. "Well, good to know you can still count on the scuttlebutt for reliable intel."
"Sir, I'm a pariah, not a gossip hound; let's just say I still have a few friends among the SPOs." Adlerstein stated with a laugh. The SPO, or officially, the Starfleet Personnel Office, was the governing body responsible for ensuring that soldiers got leave time accrued, that paperwork went were it was supposed to go, and that the correct officers and enlisted men received promotions and assignments; 'SPOs' was a mildly affeectionate term for those who worked in the office as well.
Hans took a swig of his own drink; he didn't know what it was, but it was colorful and tasted vaguely fruity, so the old German didn't complain.
"You remember Sergeant Samantha Rochambeau, our MPC aboard the Bunker Hill?" Adlerstein asked the older Admiral, referring to the Marine Personnel Clerk, or, commonly said as a word, 'Em-Pick'.
The name sounded familiar to Oliver, but for the moment he couldn't quite match a face to it. Most of the faces that rushed through his mind were those from the seemingly endless casualty reports that passed through his desk every day.
Getting a nod of recognition at the name, however vague, Adlerstein continued.
"She's now Sergeant Major Rochambeau, Chief NCO of the MAB." seeing the Admiral's eyebrow raise slightly, Hans added "Yeah, she's got some clout now let me tell you. She heard of your promotion and must have let it 'slip' to me...oops, remind me to reprimand her for such careless decorum." the old German said with mock severity.
The MAB was the Marine Administrative Board, the part of the SPO that directly handled the Starfleet Marine Corps primary administrative needs. They controlled things such as what marines were assigned where, for how long, and they were the gatekeepers to all Marine promotions up to and including full colonel. About the only thing they did not control was major commands at regiment or higher levels and flag officer promotions, which was handled by a separate administration.
With a smirk Oliver sipped from his glass. "Well, I'm sure Captain L'Vor is already on it." He said, referring to his second executive officer on the Bunker Hill. "She's always been the disciplinarian. Remember that time she reprimanded the chef because the utensils in the kitchen were not arranged strictly according to regulation and for the next two weeks whatever she ordered from the replicator, there were always a handful of fresh gagh in it? The first time it happened, oh my, the look on her face was precious."
Breaking into laughter - something he rarely did these days - the old man continued, "That was when I learned you should never tell anyone what food you despise the most. It would always come back to bite you, and in L'Vor's case, quite literally."
Hans laughed along with his former captain as he too remembered the incident in question. Afterwards, the marine's eyes took a far off look.
"I miss her sir...the Bunker Hill. Those were simple times; us against the hostile universe? All I had to worry about was making sure you didn't get yourself killed on one your damned fool moral crusades. Remember when the XO all but tackled you to get you from going on that dangerous mission to Belor IV? I didn't know whether to protect you from the XO, or the other way round..." Adlerstein smirked as he remembered fonder times.
Oliver returned the smirk. "Well, I did start going to the gym after Ensign Travers trashed me in the . . . . . ."
Cutting him off in mid sentence, the ship's VI materialized beside them in her holographic avatar, a young Andorian female. "Sorry for the interruption, gentlemen." She said to the two men before addressing the admiral, "Sir, Councilor Renn is on line alpha 3. Would you like me to transfer the call to your ready room?"
Oliver frowned slightly and then nodded. "Thank you, Themie." Turning back to the marine, he said with a wry smile, "Try as you may, Mr. Adlerstein, you can't protect me from the politicians or the politics. If you would excuse me"
"Of course sir." the marine stated with a nod of his head.
Themie waited for the admiral to disappear behind the reception room doors before turning her gaze back to the marine. "So Hans," She said with a warm smile, "it has been a while."
"Yes it has. How are you Themie?" the German replied to the VI, wondering what could be troubling his former skipper.
[To be continued in Part 4 . . . . . .]
Admiral Oliver A. Lee
Commander, 7th Fleet
V.I., USS Themyscira
Colonel Johannes Adlerstein
*Notes on naval slang: Scuttlebutt - the rumor mill; hearsay; gossip
** German pronunciation: Noy-uh Bur-lean Han-dull float-ah.