“You wanted to see me, Madame Administrator?” The aide entered the office and quietly closed the door behind him.
“Yes, thank you, Roger,” Estee replied. “Please, sit.”
When the aide was settled in a plush chair opposite the desk, Estee Auber began. “I have just heard some distressing news. General Harding tells me that the Global Armed Forces has reassigned her most famous ship and crew to the Diplomatic Corps.”
Roger nodded. “Yes, that’s true.”
“Brief me,” Estee said gravely.
Roger nodded again and looked down at his datapad. “Well,” he began. “As you know, the Valdosta has had a rough couple of years. It started after Admiral, then Captain, Avery Crane was re-assigned to command her again. She’d, ahm, lost command several years before, right after the Campaign. Anyway, she was brought back to head a team of both military and civilian crewmembers, going to explore an abeyant anomaly in the Carina Arm of the galaxy. They got…attacked out there, by something. Made it home, barely.”
The Administrator listened, not interrupting.
“They were sent back out and ended up discovering not only a sort of warp-gate, but also the first non-terrestrial intelligent life. A race of sort of benevolent consciousnesses we call the Viridians. But you know all this. The Viridians communicated with the crew and told them their race was being systematically massacred by another race we later called the Crimson. When they came home, they brought a Viridian with them who confirmed their accounts. The GAF decided to send a small fleet of ships out to Viridian space to help defend them. That effort…was unsuccessful.”
“Yes, I know. Four ships lost. All but the Valdosta herself,” Auber said.
“Right. So while the military is trying to decide what to do next, they send the Valdosta on a couple of milk-runs. Easy missions. That doesn’t go so well, either. Four people end up dead during a diplomatic mission. Then, apparently, the ship encounters another Crimson. It’s a bad situation. They come home, file their reports, and the brass decides it’s time to put them somewhere that won’t invite catastrophe for them of the rest of the GAF.”
“Are they a danger?” Estee asked pointedly.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Roger answered edgily. “If the Navy really thought so, they’d all get discharged and the ship would be decommissioned. I think it’s more of…we don’t know how unstable an element they are. Whenever they’re sent out, something crazy happens. Crane’s actually been possessed by a Crimson. And since we’re about to mobilize our entire complement of soldiers out there to fight, the military wants to keep as many unstable elements out of the equation as possible.”
“And removing the ones who have first-hand knowledge of the enemy is wise?”
“They’ve been invited and encouraged to serve in an advisory capacity. As far as I know, the GAF’s still listening to them, just not letting them go anywhere. And, looking at precedent, it’s not that unusual. Crane lost an entire fleet – most Admirals don’t get put back into active duty after something like that.”
“It seems a poor treatment of heroes,” Auber opined.
“Well, the thing is…people are starting to think they’re not so heroic, Madame Administrator. Details fall by the wayside in the masses, and all the public care about is that their sons and daughters are being sent to fight a war with in enemy they’ve never even seen, and it’s because of Crane and her crew. Some of the families of the other fleet ships have started talking to the press, and what they’re saying isn’t flattering. There’s speculation Crane herself is unstable…but that’s always been the case. She’s had wild stories going ‘round about her ever since she started OCS. Either way, the GAF thought it best to sweep them under the proverbial rug for the time being.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Ma’am?” The aide blinked.
“I know it wouldn’t be prudent to go out and start making public statements to that effect, but I think some gesture of goodwill is called for. Not for the sake of the public, but for the crew themselves. I don’t want them to think the Administration has abandoned them, even if they feel the GAF has.”
“What do you suggest?”
Auber took a moment to think. “I have a goodwill tour in a week. I’d like to ask Admiral Crane if she and her crew would consider serving as official escorts on a leg of that tour. They’re DiploCorps, it’s their job.”
“But, Madame Administrator,” protested Roger, “you have Terra One at your disposal. Wouldn’t you rather just invite them to the Citadel for a dinner or something?”
“Roger,” Estee said gently, “to do anything without the inclusion of the Valdosta herself would negate any benefit to the entire proceeding. Even I know that. Everyone knows that. That ship is as much a part of those people as their own families. No. I want to be aboard the Valdosta, and I want to do it to show the world that I trust her and her crew.”
Roger nodded faintly. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll…contact Major Harding.”
“Thank you, Roger,” Estee said, sighing. “And…tell him not to inform Crane. I want to send the comm.. to the crew myself.”
Roger lifted an eyebrow, but said nothing. He nodded, and left the office