Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Brandon Barnes and Christopher Levy.
Zero years after the Battle of Yavin (35:6:32) in the Ringali nebula: Ringali Station.
Commander Derek Atio, Sergeant Major Rake Carson, and Colonel Zeth Devers.

It took several kicks to his bunk to wake the sleeping Commander Derek Atio, who had only crawled into bed three hours prior after consuming a fair share of ale in the station's bar. The recent losses in the Outer Rim had led everyone to be on edge, wondering if they would soon face stiffer Imperial opposition, and like so many of his fellow Rebels he had taken refuge at the bottom of a bottle. "Ugh. Wha..?" he groaned, as his hand moved up to his eyes, releasing his grasp on the bottle of ale that tumbled to the floor. "Are we- are we under attack?" was his initial question as he quickly sat up in the bunk, a state of alert flowing through his body. Unfortunately for those around him that was not the only thing that was flowing through his body and several moments after rising from the bunk his stomach followed suit. "Blech..." he groaned before unleashing a stream of vomit down to the deck where Carson was standing. A series of groans escaped his lips as he frantically used his sleeves to wipe at the filth that covered his mouth and nose. It was not his finest moment.

Rake Carson, already upset at the prospect of having to wait even longer before finally being allowed to sleep, had little patience for any of Atio's usual shenanigans. He had stepped backwards when he'd heard the telltale warning sounds, and it took quite a bit of caution to avoid stepping in Derek's mess as he maneuvered in the small compartment. "Up late again, were we? I said we've got to go see the new chief of staff for the sector. I'm sure he'll be just thrilled to see the impeccable state of readiness you're in." Carson didn't really look forward to the meeting, but it wasn't exactly a cordial invitation that he could shrug off. That said, he didn't have to be thrilled. He'd been in transit for the last two days, crammed into shuttles and small craft that were devoid of the finer luxuries in life, like say sleeping quarters or even seats. What little sleep he'd been able to manage had inevitably been interrupted by sudden acceleration changes as the ships maneuvered to evade Imperial intercept, or by the more mundane yet equally annoying interruptions of his fellow passengers. His uniform was a mess, he had a three day growth of stubble, and he felt like he'd been hit by a runaway speeder. As he stepped out of the compartment and into the corridor, it occurred to him that he had never actually been to the Chief of Staff's office. "Come on, Derek. I've got no clue where the hell this guy works, so we've got about five minutes to get un-lost."

"Five minutes? What are you worrying about, Carson? I've had women who've told me five minutes is an eternity," Derek replied with some sense of confidence, before moving from the cabin through the corridors. The former mining station the Alliance had commandeered for their base was ill-suited for the task of serving as the base of a Sector Force, but its location deep within the Ringali Nebula made it virtually impenetrable as far as the Empire should be concerned. The corridors were narrow and poorly lit, and exposed wires were everywhere as technicians attempted to scrape every inch of power they could from them. There were leaks in the piping -most with foul odors- as the Rebellion had cramped more than ten times the number of personnel the station was intended to hold. "It's this way. Past the Bothan contingent, so you may want to hold your breath," he explained as he began to climb up a ladder that was originally meant to access one of the storage bays. After fitting through with a squeeze that seemed somewhat tigher than the last time he went through, they had arrived on the main level, and were within sight of the officers suites. "It doesn't smell nearly as foul on this deck. Privileges of command and whatnot," he reasoned, before taking the final steps towards the office, waiting at the door for Carson.

Carson had been in a lot of places in his time, many of which smelled foul, but it never got any easier. He trudged past the pipes, too tired to really care if anything got on him. When Atio reached the ladderwell, Carson paused to light a cigarra. He knew it'd take Atio a while to squeeze through the hatch, and at least the cigarra smoke would cover the smell. He took the short respite to get his bearings. He'd been underway for some time, and he was anxious to make it back to Brentaal, shitty safe house and all. Despite the fact that the Empire would do its level best to kill him down there, he found that fate infinitely more enticing than a slow death by paperwork that was sure to be his lot in life if he stayed off any longer. Almost immediately after leaving Brentaal the last time, he'd had to wade through no less than three straight days of backlogged paperwork regarding everything from equipment requests and munition expenditures to dental records of his personnel and the status of their finances. It was, Rake thought, a hell of a way to run a war. And now, going back down, it had looked like the end was nearly in sight. One short shuttle hop, and he'd be back doing what he loved, namely blowing up bad people, and away from the pencil pushing pricks in charge. Glancing up, Carson realized Atio had finally squeezed his oversized frame through an undersized hole, and he scrambled up the ladder onto the main deck. Glancing back and forth to gain his bearings, he spotted the hatchway and made his way past the hustle and bustle of the corridor, stopping on the opposite side of the hatch from Atio. Rake ground his unfinished cigarra out on the hatch frame and flicked the butt into the crowd of workers and personnel that shuffled past. "Let's get this shit over with, then. Then, assuming your drunk ass doesn't crash us into an asteroid, or burn us up on reentry, I can finally get to my unit and get some long-overdue sleep." Rake paused to press the entry button and allow the door to open. "After you, Commander."

Commander Atio hesitated for a moment as he looked himself over, and what he saw was anything but professional. His uniform was a mess, but when all of the water used to clean their outfits was processed from waste water he was understandably hesitant to undergo the process. And he surely couldn't drop down to one of the planets in the Ringali Shell and take it to a cleaners ... not without drawing much unwanted attention. They were always attempting to capture medical supplies, weapons, and stolen Imperial data ... perhaps it was time they raided a spa. Going through the motions of sorting out what parts of his uniform he could, he stepped through the doorway and prepared to meet the new chief of staff. His eyes looked over the sparsely decorated office, before moving over to the carpet in front of the Colonel's desk. "Commander Derek Atio of the corvette Argo reporting as ordered, sir," he said, sounding decidedly more proper than was often the case.

Colonel Zeth Devers, Chief of Staff, Ringali SecForce, eyed the two 'men' that had just felt the need to disgrace his office with their presence. He'd been appointed a week ago to this posting, and what he'd discovered had shocked him. Having been reassigned from an outer-rim posting, he'd assumed that activities in the Core would be conducted in a far more professional military manner, and had expected to have to navigate the usual bureaucratic crap that usually came with that. He'd not been exceedingly thrilled by the prospect of that sort of posting, being a career soldier and not a politician, but what he'd encountered would have made such a job seem like heaven. The paltry forces that the Alliance had arrayed here could barely be called 'military', and even then it was best said with a wink and a nod. He'd reviewed the fitness reports, the after action reports, the psychological reports, and every other piece of paper that he could get his hands on, trying to find any redeeming qualities within the 'unit' to which he'd been assigned, but so far he'd come across very little to reassure him. He understood, of course, that the exigencies of war often negated a certain level of military discipline, and certainly agreed that the unbelievably stiff rod that was shoved firmly up the ass of his Imperial counterparts could by no means be expected to adapt to the infinitely flexible operational necessities of a guerilla war. But this? Everything he'd seen was not just a disgrace, but a liability. A guerilla force must make up in professionalism and proficiency what it lacks in resources and manpower. Success can only be achieved if every guerilla soldier, man for man, was better trained and better led than his opponent. Neither could be said for these men. He eyeballed the service records on his desk, comparing the fitness reports and proficiency marks to the two creatures in front of him.

"You're late." He did not put the men at ease, nor did he extinguish the rather acrid cigarra that was emitting a very thick, powerful, and unpleasant stream of smoke from the ashtray. Now, Zeth had served as a junior officer. In fact, he'd served as an enlisted man in the Imperial Marines. He'd been down just about every road the service life could offer, from the pointy end of the stick to the shitty staff jobs. That said, he knew that the farther afield one went, the further the rules got stretched. He had some give there, and understood that sometimes it was necessary. But it was not necessary to sacrifice punctuality, good order and discipline, or pure professionalism. Such ways inevitably lead to the loss of both proficiency and morale, and ultimately lives. Though he knew that most in the field didn't agree, he also knew it to be the truth. He'd been there, done that, and had no qualms about enforcing it. Life would not be getting any easier for these men if their current actions indicated the way the rest of this meeting would go.

"Commander Atio? Are you certain, Commander, that you are indeed a Naval Officer? Perhaps you've made a wrong turn, landed somehow in the wrong office. You look more like the goddamn maintenance crew than an officer in the Alliance Navy. Either way, you'd better have one hell of an explanation for your late appearance here today." Perhaps, he thought, the man had an honest explanation. Maybe he'd caught him on an off day. That was perfectly plausible, and he certainly would give the man the benefit of the doubt. But that did not mean that he wasn't obligated to point it out. He had no intention of being a martinet, like so many commanders he'd known. On the other hand, of course, he could not allow himself to be a pushover.

"Colonel, I apologize for the condition of my uniform, but when you've served here as long as I have this is what starts to happen," the Commander began, honestly enough, but fully aware from the dressing down he received that he was assuredly going to lose the argument. "No one wants to look this way. No one takes any pride in it. But we simply haven't the resources to maintain our uniforms or appearances, sir," Derek continued, not knowing what else to say, as the Colonel had made a valid point. "We are on a cramped station deep within a nebula that threats to vent us into space at every moment. What water there is we use for drinking and food preparation. There simply isn't enough to shower as much we'd all like to, or shave, and you can forget laundry, sir," he concluded, wondering why he was being singled out among all of the other unkempt officers that littered the station. "This is my second war, and we did not look much better then. And, if you review my file, sir, you'll see that I was, up until last year, an engineer and I take it as a compliment to be compared with the maintenance staff ... they're the only ones keeping us alive," he concluded, with an emphatic nod, preparing himself for the expected onslaught to come.

Devers took a deep breath as he listened to Atio provide him with the laundry list of excuses. Some of them, certainly, were valid, but others were so far off the mark they might as well be aimed at the outer rim. Having the data in front of him, Zeth knew that the Argo had a functional water supply, given that nobody had died on prolonged voyages due to dehydration. Moreover, he'd interviewed a number of other officers aboard this station and from others, and while all of them had certainly been more than slightly unkempt, they had at least managed to make it on time. "Commander, I'll keep this brief. I don't give a rat's ass about somebody having a shoddy uniform due to work. I understand that you've got problems. I live here too. What I care about is that you use those problems as excuse for not giving a damn, which is plainly apparent in both the appearance of that uniform, which is atrocious even by the standards of this station, and in your own personal hygiene, which is downright unsatisfactory. You arrived here late, you've got vomit on your uniform, and you smell like a back-alley moonshining operation. Now it strikes me as more than a little fucking careless," he was getting more and more emphatic as he spoke, "that you can't even exhibit the most basic of military practices, in any fucking way. You've got about three fucking seconds to correct that deficiency, or by everything I hold holy and dear, I'm going to see that you spend the rest of your days counting dots on a cell wall in the deepest, darkest shithole of a brig that I can find, so far out from civilization that we'll have to give you time served just for the fucking transit! Is that clear, Commander, or must I elaborate? As soon as we conclude this meeting, you will get that uniform cleaned, you will correct your problems with telling time, and you will, by God, act like a fucking officer from this moment until the day you die. Your record shows quite a bit, Atio, and I can't say that I'm either impressed or appalled by that paperwork alone. What it doesn't say, however, is that you're a goddamn waste of potential. You've got proficiency scores off the charts in just about every technical field we test in. You've got good marks for leadership and performance, and you've got combat experience. You should be leading your men, not binge drinking and vomiting on yourself. You get dirty cleaning up your ship or doing some real work? Fine. I'll buy that. I'll back that up any day of the week. You get dirty because you're a middle-aged alcoholic that doesn't give a rats ass about his appearance? That's a fucking disgrace." He slapped the record with his fingers for emphasis. "This here says that you've got disciplinary reports in every command you've been in for alcohol related incidents. It also says, in far more elaborate terms, that you're a clutz. That's bullshit, in my opinion. You wouldn't have the technical skills you've got without hands on experience, and if you were really as clumsy as this record states, you'd have died ten years ago in some tragic accident. What that tells me is that you're lazy and you dodge responsibility, or that you've got some deep seated psychological issues that need to get addressed. Frankly, you don't look like the kind of nutcase that self-medicates, and your record sure as shit doesn't provide any reason for some crazy combat fatigue, so I'm gonna go ahead and go with the first one." He paused for a moment, snuffing out the cigarra and glaring at Atio. As he thought, the glare softened, eventually becoming just another hard stare from a troubled superior.

No one had ever spoken to Derek in such a manner and it took several moments after the Colonel finished speaking for the ringing in his ears to stop. "With due respect, Colonel, I have transported SpecForce across the galaxy and gotten them out of more tough jams than many of the other blockade runners in the fleet," he said with some determination, his swollen cheeks reddening somewhat as he attempted to temper his rage. "Later today I am tasked with running a blockade that consists of two entire wings of Imperial starfighters, support craft, and a Star Destroyer ... in a shuttle I can barely hold together that hasn't been properly maintained since we acquired her. It is an arduous tas-"

Devers stood out of his seat, his eyes hard as steel as he leaned over the desk and did his damndest to bore through Atio with them. He placed his face approximately six inches from Atio's, his hot breath smelling of some foul alien cuisine as he lashed out, "*I do not fucking care, Commander!* That is your job, not some task that was forced upon you at blaster-point that can be waved around like you're a fucking victim! People depend upon your actions to provide them with the necessities of running this war, staying alive, and in general hurting the empire! I'm confident, even proud of your skill in piloting craft through a blockade, or in keeping a piece of shit shuttle running like that one you've got parked in this station. My concern is in your abilities to conduct yourself like an officer. This isn't fun and games, damnit! If you look like a defeatist, then that spreads to your crew. Are your crew happy, Atio? They probably bitch about their job, sure, but are they happy? Chances are they're scared shitless. Everybody's scared shitless. That's part of war. What do you think it says when their commanding officer looks like the comic relief on a bad holo flick? How do they feel when you retreat to quarters to drink half the ship's supply of medicinal brandy, then come out and talk about how hopeless your situation is? Does that instill confidence? Damnit, Commander, military discipline is there for a reason. It's not just to instill good order and discipline, and make a bunch of pretty troops walk up and down in a line. It's to provide routine! It's to promote professionalism and good bearing! It gives the men something to lean on, to bitch about, to utilize. Most of all, it keeps them from seeing their commanding officer curl up into a bottle and shit his pants in fear. Now you can take the constructive criticism and fix the fucking problem, or so help me, I'll remove you from your command and ground your ass right here and now. Are we clear?" Devers was pissed. He hated that he had to berate this man so much, but if he wanted to see their operations succeed in this sector, he had to make sure that the officers in his charge behaved accordingly. He could only guess what kind of shitbag the Sergeant Major waiting outside was. He hoped he was a stellar professional, but the chances of that seemed pretty low. Either way, he had to worry about the here and now. Surely, with all his time in the service, Atio understood what he was saying. Hell, it was right there in black and white that he had the potential to be a superb officer. But so long as he was drunk or hungover most of the time, he represented a major weak link in any future operations.

"Colonel, I do not think you are being fair. My crew and those I have been tasked with transporting have always been able to depend on me. I don't know what it says in there, sir, but it should show that I have never failed to deliver my passengers to and from their destination. If I wish to drink on my downtime to take the edge off ... then that is my right, provided it does not affect my duty," Derek reasoned, unwilling to be spoken to in such a manner, by an officer that only so recently come to the region. He surmised that these were the words of a desk jockey who had spent very little time in the field and was unaccustomed to the strain these missions placed upon the men. "As I said earlier, sir ... no one wants to look like this, but I was not expected to be on duty until my flight in the morning, and there is nothing that one can do about their uniform in these situations," he concluded, before finally taking his seat in front of the desk. He felt unfairly chastised and gave half a thought to resigning his commission and letting them struggle to find someone else to bypass the Imperial blockade ... not very likely he thought.

Devers sat back in his seat, but his mind was racing with frustration. Internally, he counted to ten, struggling to keep his bearing. This guy, he thought, has obviously been away from the service for too long. It was apparent that he didn't quite understand the need or even the aim of what Devers was trying to do. If he wanted to bring the fight to the Empire, he had to have this guy on board. Therefore, he reasoned, he needed to lay things out for Atio. "I'm going to level with you, Atio. I frankly don't give a shit what your opinion is about your rights. Henceforth, while aboard a military vessel in a duty capacity, you are limited to one drink per night. That, Commander, is my right. I have the authority to do such things, you understand. You will comply with Naval regulation. Period. In the field, I don't give a damn what you do about uniforms or grooming standards, but as sure as I sit here now, there will be no getting drunk while in a duty capacity. You're the Captain of the Argo. Therefore, while aboard her, you are always in a duty capacity. Until you square your shit away, that's how it will remain." He paused to light another cigarra, and then flipped the pack across to Atio. "Now. As I stated before, Commander, I'm not greatly concerned by your proficiency. You're a capable pilot, and you're correct in your assertion that you've always delivered your cargo. And yes, you've always completed your mission. That said, your mission has been completed, most of the time, solely via quick wit, luck, and no small amount of skill on the part of yourself and your crew. This sounds great on the surface, but it's not. You get into situations that you could avoid, often by some simple mistake or oversight that should have been caught. Look, our job as military officers is to kill the enemy, but not while wasting lives uselessly or for little gain. My job in particular is to review, revise, and implement practices that cut down on our losses while increasing our effectiveness against the Imperials. With that in mind, I've gone over your after action reports. An improper IFF code here, the wrong comms procedure there. Yeah, you've got the skill to get out of those situations, but the cavalier way you get into them is what I'm trying to address. Step up the game, Atio. If you were to approach this job with the seriousness and professionalism that the service requires, clearheaded and sober, you could accomplish some amazing things. Point is, Atio, I'm really not trying to tear you down here and make a scene for no reason. I'm trying to help you, and in turn help those under you stay alive." He tapped Atio's record again, then waved his hand over the mountainous stacks of after action reports. Devers was old school and preferred hard copies. "All of these, they tell a story. Look, I've been where you are. Granted, I was a ground pounder and not a Naval line officer, but I've heard commanders blow hot air and spit fire and brimstone. I've listened to asschewings and came to the same conclusions you have: This guy doesn't really get it, doesn't see it for what it is. Thing is, though, that's horseshit. I've been there, and so had they. In the end, as time progressed, I realized they were right. You can sacrifice a lot. The way you look, the way you dress, all of that. But you have to carry yourself with confidence and bearing. You have to be professional. You have to be sure of yourself, carry yourself proudly, and let none of your subordinates see you caught off guard. They see that, they start wondering if you really know what you're doing," He paused again, digging out a stack of records to toss across the table. "You see all that? That's the service jackets of all the personnel on Brentaal. Now, normally our SpecForce guys go through damn near a year of training, and that's after selection from the regular forces. Our guys, however, have none of those advantages. Due to manpower shortages and a myriad of other reasons, we've got to make do. And those guys just don't have the experience to soldier on without some damn good leadership. You starting to catch on, here, Atio? My job is to see that they get the training and leadership that they need. My job is to see that they don't get wasted because somebody made a stupid mistake that could have been avoided. Here," he pointed towards a holo, tapping firmly to emphasize his point, "is a directive from Alliance headquarters ordering us to lay low. We're to cease current operations and carry out only those operations necessary to maintain our current gains. All efforts are to be made for force protection, meaning that we aren't to waste lives. My intention is to use this time to train. Now, our major focus here is Brentaal iV, it being the primary economic center in this region. With that in mind, and you being the senior naval officer present in that area, I'm detaching three vessels, two YZ-775's and the Solace, a Nebulon B frigate, to your command immediately. Obviously the frigate probably shouldn't operate directly in Brentaal, but should you need her, she's yours. You're in charge of this squadron. Now do you understand why I need you to act like a naval officer? It's not just some little corvette you're running now. You have an actual job to do, a real mission that requires leadership, and not just seat of your pants flying." Devers stopped for a moment, thought about waiting for Atio's response to all of what he'd said, and then decided to plow on. Maybe this final parting shot would ease some of the tension from the earlier meeting. Ultimately, Devers didn't want Atio browbeaten and defeated when he left this office. He wanted him improved.

"In addition to what I've already said, I have one more thing to ask from you. I need a list of all components, supplies, and repairs that you feel are necessary to complete your job for the next two months. I can't promise that you'll get everything, but you have my solemn word that if it's on this station and not spoken for by somebody more important than me, you'll get it. As well," he shuffled a paper in front of him, "you will be receiving a number of new personnel, both under your own command and that of the SpecForces you support. I understand that will increase your runs back and forth quite a bit, but it can't be helped. Given the condition of your craft, I've taken the liberty of doubling your assigned maintenance personnel. I apologize for any cramped conditions this might cause, but I'm sure it'll be nice to have things running well at least. Which reminds me," he added as an afterthought, "your previous requisitions for hyperspace components, engine parts, and avionics have been filled. Apparently my predecessor was hoarding this crap for some unknown reason." He didn't add, of course, that he was pretty sure that his predecessor was deeply involved in the black market, and that he had every intention of catching that slimy little scumbag in a back alley somewhere to have a real come to terms chat.

Derek listened to everything the Colonel had to say, and agreed with many of the points the newly-arrived officer was making, but disagreed with his demeanor and speech. In many ways he was reminiscent of some of the men he encountered during the last war, particularly those that had been hired to train the Clones. The thought of not being able to drink frightened him ... he had come to rely on his drinking to help him through the increasing presence of the Imperial blockade. On his last run to Ralltiir, a Nebulon-B frigate had nearly destroyed the freighter he was on, and the alcohol decidedly took the edge off. Although he did not realize it, his left hand was already trembling at the prospect of being cut off the remainder of his supply of Alderaan Ruge. "Understood," he said, without exerting too much effort or emotion regarding the order, but he realized in his dealings with SpecForce, brief as they were, that this was a battle he did not think he could win. "I am sure the crew of the Argo will be grateful for the support, Colonel. We've been operating at diminished capacity since we were hit at Thyferra..." he paused for a moment, remembering the battle and the death of Commander Dhartanyn. He was never meant for command; he was an engineer and always had been. If he had not been in the engine room he would have been sucked out into space like the officers who were trained for command and the sort of assignments the Colonel was now outlining. Privately, he felt he was not up for the assignment, particularly without being able to turn to the bottle in moments of calm. He made a point to take a mental note of the assets being transferred to Brentaal, and acknowledged that this represented the most powerful Rebel presence in the region. "If there's nothing further, Colonel, I should see to prepping the transport," he said, followed by a firm nod, before waiting for orders to be dismissed.

Devers stayed silent for a moment, trying to read the commander while he lit up another cigarra. After taking a hefty drag, Devers nodded, then spoke. "Very well, Commander. Send in Sergeant Major..." he paused, looking down at the personnel file for a moment, "Carson, is it?" Satisfied that that was the correct name, Devers nodded slightly to himself, then closed Atio's file. "Before you go, Commander, do remember what I said about that uniform. You'll find fresh ones in your cargo manifest. And stay off the damn bottle. Dismissed." Devers moved Atio's file off to the side of his desk, clearing a space for Carson's. It was an act of finality, closing a somewhat unpleasant chapter in his tenure here, and opening a new one. He took another drag off of the smoke before setting it back down in the ashtray to wait for Carson to come in, keeping his eyes on the door as Atio exited. Overall, he decided, this meeting had gone decently. He wasn't exactly thrilled with Atio, but if he applied himself he might well do the job, and truth be told, he hadn't done poorly so far. But for the drinking and his less professional traits, he'd accomplished his missions fairly well, and so long as that continued, Devers was happy enough. What he was truly worried about was whether or not this devil-may-care attitude would get somebody killed.

"Understood, Colonel," Derek repeated as he prepared to leave the office. He was delighted to have a new uniform, and seemed disappointed that he had implied he otherwise did not. Things definitely seemed to be changing in the Ringali Shell, but only time would tell if they would be for the better. As he exited the office he stopped briefly next to Sergeant Major Carson. "You're up. Good luck..." he said, both looking and sounding as if he had sustained a massive beating from a Barabel shockboxer. The Colonel had yelled at him worse than his father ever had, and it would take sometime for him to purge the harsh language from his system. It was at times like this that he could most benefit from a drink, but those damned orders would prevent such an occurrence. With that, he proceeded down in the direction of the modest hangar bay, where his shuttle was currently undergoing refueling.

Carson hadn't heard too much of what had gone on inside the Colonel's office, but if there was any doubt about what he was about to experience, that doubt was eliminated when Atio came back out of the door. Atio was never in top condition, but he'd somehow managed to come out of that office looking even lower than normal. As Atio retreated down the hallway, Carson took a glance at his receding figure and muttered under his breath. "Gee thanks, bud. You're just full of cheerful news." Mentally, Carson shrugged off whatever emotions might arise from the short exchange, and slapped the door controls to open the hatch. After it had whooshed open, the smell of stale cigarra smoke assailed him from the interior of the office. Rake composed himself and stepped forcefully into the doorway, then strode as militarily as he could to the traditional reporting position, stopping roughly 18 inches from the desk, centered on the Colonel, and staring ahead at the wall about a foot above the head of the officer. "Sergeant Major Carson, Alliance Specforces, reporting as ordered, sir." Carson hadn't done this crap in ages, and he was pretty sure he was somewhat rusty, but he frankly didn't give a damn. In the past few months he'd been shot at, beat on, and faced some of the worst conditions humanly possible. He was quite honestly tired. Hell, in the last 72 hours he hadn't even slept, and his three day beard was surely unmilitary. All he wanted to do right now was get this crap over with and get back off station and into his own rack for some well needed sleep.

Devers ran his eyes over the haggard figure that stood before him. While not covered in vomit and grease stains, and certainly in quite a bit better shape than his naval counterpart, Carson didn't exactly cut an impressive figure. In his years of service, Zeth had known Carson's type well enough, and he wasn't really awed by the title of SpecForces anymore. Some men attempted to use that aura to pull things over, growing out beards and getting drunk or causing trouble. Having been in those units, Zeth knew the type. Of course, Carson didn't appear to be that kind of NCO, but he did have a certain rough edge about him. "Sergeant Major Carson, it would appear that you're late. You have anything to say for yourself, or do you even give a damn?" Devers knew that Carson hadn't had the opportunity to change or shave, of course, but that didn't change the facts. Besides, he wanted to see how the man reacted. Better to put the man off guard right from the get-go than try and needle his character traits out of him over the course of a long conversation. "To be honest, Carson, I've seen first day recruits that look better than you, and I've been assigned to some pretty sloppy training commands in my day. You come into my office with some kind of wild animal growing on your face and a uniform that you probably slept in, and you're not even here on time. Whatever your excuse is, it had better be damn good." Devers let that opening remark hang on the air, keeping any and all emotion off of his face. Just as with Atio, he wanted Carson off balance and responding honestly right off the bat. It was a trick he'd learned years ago from a salty old Captain that had run one of the best infantry companies in the Imperial Marines. It'd never failed so far.

Carson stiffened some as the Colonel spoke, feeling that hot Corellian anger boiling up inside him. This sorry sack of desk driving shit had the audacity to question his appearance after all the crap he'd put up with? If he thought Carson was going to take this kind of shit, he had another think coming. As the officer spoke, Carson's rage fought a bitter war with his reason, and reason had almost won when the Colonel made his final crack. That sealed it. He wasn't about to sit here and take this, and this rear echelon jackass was about to hear what Rake thought about it. "With due respect sir, I did not sleep in this uniform. Nor have I slept at all in the last three days, because somebody here thought it was a good idea to ship me halfway across the galaxy to some godawful planet to train some two bit operation instead of keeping me down on Brentaal with my team where I belong. I've flown halfway across known space in ships that were probably condemned before the Republic convened its first senate, and then when I finally thought I was going to get a little sleep, some chickenshit officer decided it was a good idea to have a meeting." Carson paused noticeably, staring directly at Devers as he did so. "Sir," he finally added. Carson didn't bother hiding any of his malice, literally spitting the words out as he spoke them. This was not a deadpan NCO delivering bad news in the guise of professionalism. This was a hot-headed Corellian saying what he thought. Shifting his gaze from the wall to Devers, Carson locked eyes with the man, trying to get a solid read on just who the hell this clown was.

Devers met his gaze, and there was no shortage of ice in it. Devers knew Carson's record, knew what kind of soldier he was, but he wasn't about to be cowed by some words and hot air. Devers had done his time in the dirt, and had been where the metal meets the meat. He didn't have to prove himself to this man, nor would he try to. He would get what he demanded, come what may. Whatever passed for military discipline and bearing before was not going to fly now. "Sergeant Major Carson, I really don't give a shit what you've done in the last seventy two hours," he began calmly. His voice was cold, with a durasteel quality. "You are a non-commissioned officer in the most elite unit in this service. You will act and appear accordingly, even if you have to short-dick every life form in this sector to make it happen." Zeth stubbed his cigarra out in the ashtray as he leaned back in his seat, relaxing his gaze but not moving it. "Besides, Carson. If you can't hack three days without a nap, then maybe you should take your sorry ass out of SpecForce, because it's certainly not the place for you."

Carson couldn't believe what he was hearing. This man actually was telling him that he should have shaved and changed before coming here, regardless of the conditions. In addition, he was telling him that he didn't have the right to complain about three days without sleep. This was ridiculous. He hadn't been subject to these kinds of expectation since his time in NavSpecForce, but that was different then. Then, they'd been an elite unit that had to maintain high standards in order to accomplish their mission. Here, they were... well, they were an elite unit that had to maintain high standards in order to accomplish their mission. Damn it all, this desk jockey had a point. He wasn't quite sure what the Colonel was driving at, but in this case he was correct. Carson wanted to spit, but he managed to stop himself. Probably make the old man fly off the handle again. He swallowed, almost visibly forcing himself to attain some form of military bearing. He'd be damned before he let some pogue peg him as inferior. If this sonofabitch thought he knew more about leading men, then Carson wouldn't be the one to give him the evidence he needed to prove it. He'd be better than this sorry mother ever could be. Digging back to his Navy days, Carson managed to get a tenuous hold on his own discipline, standing just a little straighter. Maybe he wasn't clean shaven or hygienic, but nobody would fault the way he carried himself. He squared his shoulders, and kept silent under the man's onslaught. Instead of a response, he locked eyes with Devers, trying to bore a hole right through the man. He sure as hell wouldn't blink first.

Devers smiled, if so grandiose a term could be applied to such a minor tick. Carson wasn't exactly an enigma, and the conclusion the man had come to was more than obvious. Chalk up a victory for good order and discipline, Devers thought. He knew Carson hated him now, and he intended to use it to his advantage. If he hated him, fine. It'd give the man reason not to fail. It was obvious that Carson would let his pride keep him from making any mistakes that Devers could use against him. That meant he was on the right track, and all Devers had to do was push a little bit more. "I believe the correct response is "Aye Aye, Sir. Of course, you probably forgot that in the years you spent trying, almost successfully I might add, to visit every jail and brig in the galaxy."

Carson bit hard on his lower lip. clenching his fists as the pompous asshole in front of him made jabs at his character. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, though, an Imperial NavSpecForces officer was telling him to keep his bearing. His military training was fighting, successfully for the time being, to keep him from doing something outlandish. On the other hand, it had been a long time since he'd been subject to any sort of military discipline. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the part of his mind that screamed for him to quite literally stomp a mudhole in this arrogant officer began to reside, replaced by the growing intensity of his gradually returning bearing. "Aye sir," he stammered out, forgoing the Army response of Yes Sir for the more familiar naval terminology. As he spoke, his eyes began to draw down to the tunic of the officer in front of him, taking in the "fruit salad" of his military decorations. Each ribbon on its own told of achievements, but together they were a tale of a career, and what seemed to be a successful one. As Carson glanced over them, he began to realize that this guy was the real deal. He had more combat ribbons than any man he'd ever seen, and Carson looked more pointedly at the man's aged face. He was weathered from years of service, and must have been in for a great many years to amass that impressive array of decorations. Or, maybe he'd just bought all that shit at the exchange and wore it around to impress young officers and NCOs with his fake service. Either way, Carson wasn't going to let the bastard win. He'd seen this kind before, who wanted the hard-fighting NCOs to fail so that they could give them the axe and look good to the brass for being so hard on the men.

"Very good, Sergeant. Be seated." Devers reached over to the pack of cigarras again, casually pounding out another smoke and lighting it. As he ignited it, he began to wish, for perhaps the millionth time today, for better ventilation in his office. The cloud of tobacco smoke was somewhere between oppressive and downright caustic. After getting the cigarra lit, he tossed the pack over to the NCO and pushed his record out of the way. "I'm going to get down to brass tacks, here, Sergeant Major. Your team has no training to speak of. Its men were pulled rather willy-nilly from various commands, and I find that pretty appalling. Now I've got an order here," he pounded the desk for emphasis, "that states that we are to cut back on offensive operations and instead focus on force protection. Basically, we're going to be having a lot of down time. What does that mean for you, Carson?"

Carson looked down at the pack of cigarras for a moment as though it were some sort of trap. Why the sudden change in this guy? Thirty seconds ago he was making Carson out to be the worst shithead in the Alliance, now he wanted his opinion? He thought about it for a few seconds while the Colonel spoke, then figured to hell with it. If this guy was imbalanced, so be it. If he was going to ask Carson's opinion, maybe he could wangle some concessions. Pounding out a smoke from the pack, he spoke to the Colonel. "Well, sir, I suppose," he paused to light the smoke, "that you want me to train my team in the down time." Carson took a drag off the smoke and then leaned forward in his seat. "Problem is, sir, we've got operations on the books that have to go forward soon or they'll be worthless. How do you expect me to just stop all action?" This, Carson thought, was the problem with these plans, and the reason that it had never been done in the past. The expediency of just conducting operations with undertrained forces outweighed the advantages of training them. They'd been operating that way for some time now, and it seemed to work. He was interested to hear what this man would have to say about this problem, as he was pretty sure there was no good solution.

Devers had foreseen this. Smiling, he answered without any hesitation. "You don't. You'll continue your minor actions, such as hitting checkpoints, getting supplies, harassing the locals. Make it part of your training. What I need you to do is get these guys ready for a major push, though. That little idea your man, what was his name? Athol? Yes, Athol. That operation he cooked up about the ISD, that's going forward. Orders say we're to push it as soon as possible, and resources are being diverted to make it happen. With an addendum." He locked eyes with Carson, a subtle glint of joy in his eyes as he spoke. "You're going to take the government center once we have the ISD." He grinned now, the overt display obviously thrilled with the prospect of such an action. It was ambitious, bold, and perfect. If they could take that government center, Brentaal IV would know beyond a doubt that the Alliance was capable of projecting force in this region, and the trouble that would cause would be a thorn in the Empire's side for years to come. An excellent diversion of resources. "Obviously you'll relinquish it once you've finished your objective, but we can discuss that later. For now, I need your team in top shape for some pretty heavy CQB."

Carson was beyond shocked at this point. Not only was he expected to teach his team how to actually be commandos in a short period of time while still conducting normal operations, he was now expected to actually take control of a planetary government for an undisclosed period of time. If he'd been fully awake, he probably would have objected, but in his current state and frayed nerves, he resorted to half-ass comedy. "Yes sir. Uh, sir, was that all? Or do you perhaps want me to attack the main Imperial fleet with a starfighter and a big set of balls? Or maybe steal the Emperor's favorite robe?" He was only half-joking of course, as either of these propositions was only slightly more dangerous than what this man wanted him to do. Carson took another pull on the cigarra as he thought more about it, trying to wrap his mind around the idea. Suddenly, his uniform began to feel less and less comfortable, seemingly constricting as he sat here like one of those snakes on the holovids. This was just too much. Unfortunately, it was just too real as well, and he was the poor sap stuck with the job.

Devers chuckled at Carson's quip, understanding that the man was a little put off by the sudden addition to his orders. "Look, nobody said this would be easy. And for the most part that is all. It's all of the bad news anyways. I've got some good news for you to go with all of it. You are to be resupplied as soon as possible, and I'm personally seeing to the situation. You have a request, I'll see that it gets filled. There was one other thing," his voice trailed as he began to shuffle through his papers again, digging for the right document. So much work, he thought, and not enough desk space for it all. He really needed to get an aide, but he couldn't bring himself to force anyone to do what he would not or could not do himself. "Ah, yes. This Corporal Athol of yours, you requested his promotion to Sergeant. I'm sorry, but that simply can't happen. The table of organization only allows for one staff NCO per team, I'm afraid, and before you ask, even Sergeant is out. As a technician sergeant, he'd be reassigned to the Outer Shell as a trainer as soon as that promotion was received. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to lose any men just now, especially men who already have the necessary training to do the job. Again, I apologize, but that's the way it has to be. Now, if there's nothing else, Sergeant Major, you're dismissed."

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