Below is part one. I have made a few small changes, but is still the same story.
A story of the Exodus
Craig A. Reed, Jr.
SLS Nicholas Cameron
April 5, 2785
The observation area on the McKenna-class battleship was a cramped area, roughly the size of a small cabin. The single occupant of the chamber didn't mind the smallness of the area. After all, he had grown use to the cramp conditions over the last year.
The single portal was about a meter thick, hardened to withstand the cold semi-vacuum of space, but clear enough so the occupant could see half a dozen of the accompanying warships. The access hatch was closed, though not secured. The rest of the chamber was stark, without anything to disturb his solitude.
He wasn't a tall man, but his shoulders were wide and strong, and the uniform he wore was clean and neat. His dark hair was cut short and showed a slight grey along the temples. A year in space with only a single planet fall had left his skin pale, but his eyes were bright, scanning the stars and the WarShips that sailed several kilometers away. He stood at parade rest, a stance as comfortable to him as sitting.
When he heard the hatch behind him open, he did not react. “Major Tanaga?” a voice asked.
Right on time, Tanaga thought. He waited a few seconds before he said, “Keller?”
“Come in, Lieutenant,” Tanaga said in an even voice. “Close the hatch behind you please.”
He heard the hatch close. “You wished to see me, Sir?” Keller asked.
Tanaga, his eyes still fixed on the view outside the portal, raised a hand and urged Keller to come forward. He waited until he felt the Lieutenant was standing at his should before he said, “An impressive sight, is it not?”
“I guess so.”
“You don’t find it impressive?”
“I've never really given it much thought. But you didn't ask me here to show me the view, did you?”
To the point. Good. The Major turned his head to look at the Lieutenant. “Captain Harris wanted me to speak to you – unofficially.”
The Lieutenant was young – awfully young, Tanaga thought. He was half a head taller then the Major, but thinner, with short blond hair and blue eyes. “About what, sir?” he asked in a flat tone.
“She has told me that you have expressed the opinion that we’re on a fool’s errand more then once over the last several weeks.”
“Sir, I –“
Tanaga held up a hand to stop the Lieutenant’s words. ”Now, relax. What is said in here between you and I will stay in here. Understood?” The younger man nodded. “Good. I’m here to talk to you, not bite your head off.”
It took several seconds for the younger officer to try and relax, but Tanaga still could see the tenseness in his shoulders. Deliberately, Tanaga shifted his stance so he was facing him, forcing himself to relax. “I've read your record, Lieutenant Keller, and I find it to be a very solid one. The Army needs officers like you.”
“I know sir, but . . . ”
“But what?” Tanaga could see the indecision in Keller’s face.
It took several seconds for the words to come out. “But aren't we just running away from the problems back in the Inner Sphere? I though the General was going to withdraw until the Council Lords came to their senses.”
“If it was that simple,” Tanaga said softly, “We would have never left.” He looked out the portal again. “The Star League died with Richard Cameron, the war we fought merely made sure his murder didn't benefit from his death.” He sighed.
“But why didn't General Kerensky take the position of First Lord for himself?” Keller asked, now warming up to his subject. “You know that we would have followed him, and most of the citizens would have supported him. Why did he allow the Council to strip him of his role as Protector?”
“The Protector of what?” Tanaga asked. “Richard Cameron, his family, and any person with Cameron blood in them the Usurper got his hands on are dead. All we did was delivered justice for their ghosts.”
“You know what I mean!” Keller said sharply. “The General could have held together the Star League if he had stepped forward. Instead, he takes the Army and leaves! Don’t you see, sir, it looks like he’s running away!”
Tanaga took a deep breath. “Tell me,” he said in a soft, even tone, “what would the difference be between the Usurper on the throne and the General?”
Keller frowned. “Sir?”
“The Usurper sat on the throne because he killed The First Lord. Would you have the General do the same thing?”
“But it isn't the same thing!”
“Isn't it?” Tanaga asked. “The General would have held the throne only as long as he had the SLDF behind him. We would be surrounded by five major hostile states who would have done everything to remove him. How long could we maintain the peace in the face of that?”
“For a while, at least. Maybe long enough to get the Hegemony back on its feet.”
The Major shook his head. “The States were already beginning to recruit SLDF soldiers before the General decided to leave. How long could the General compete against the offers of better pay, better living conditions? Remember, they were barely touched by the war, while the Hegemony was shattered. We would have to be dependent on those same states for supplies and money, and they knew it. How long would the SDLF survive with parts of it lured away?”
“I can’t believe that our soldiers would do that.”
Tanaga sighed. “How much combat did you see in the war?”
“Some,” Keller replied. “Mostly when we invaded Earth.”
“Those of us who were with the General since the beginning of this war have seen too much destruction and death. After all that, offers of money, lands, and titles begin to sound like a very good idea.” He looked out into the darkness of space, his eyes lingering on the dim shapes of the ships. “That is all that would have been left to us, had we stayed.”
“But what about those soldiers who elected to stay behind? Don’t they feel the same way as the General?”
“I cannot speak for them,” Tanaga replied. “But I respect their decision to stay. Maybe they can do something to ease the coming storm.”
Keller turned and looked out the portal. For several minutes, neither man spoke. Then, Keller asked softly, “Sir, do you really think that the Lords would start fighting among themselves? After what we did for them?”
Tanaga exhaled slowly. “They will fight among themselves exactly because of what we did. The First Lord and the SLDF kept the peace, but neither by itself can do the job. It took the Council ten months to decide that the Star League would be no more. I spent two months there on guard duty, and I saw them discuss and debate the issue. Each was angling to claim the position of First Lord, but not out of any desire to serve the Inner Sphere, but to put their own agenda forward.”
“I still don’t like this idea of leaving the Inner Sphere,” the Lieutenant said.
“The General’s first duty is to the Army, its preservation and its unity. To stay would have seen it destroyed or co-opted by the other states within ten years.”
“But why so far?”
“To keep them from pursuing us and starting the whole thing over again. Where were you born?”
“On Helen, sir. Both my parents were artists, but they . . . were . . . ”
“Killed?” Tanaga asked.
“Tell me Lieutenant, do you have any family at all back there?”
“No, sir. I am an orphan.”
Tanaga nodded. “I left a grandfather, father, two brothers and a sister back there.”
“Sir, why did you come along?”
“Because it is my duty.” He looked at Keller again. “I come from a family of soldiers. My father’s family has served the Draconis Combine for better then three centuries.”
That startled Keller. “Draconis Combine? I’m sorry sir, but I didn't know.”
“That is all right. I haven’t felt much of anything for the Combine in years.”
“I though the Drac . . . er”
“It’s all right to call them Dracs. I've used the term myself more then once in the past.”
Keller swallowed, then continued. “I thought the . . . Dracs didn't want any of their citizens in the Army.”
Tanaga smiled. “They didn't. But I didn't let that stop me. As soon as I was eighteen, I walked into an SLDF recruiting station and signed up.”
“Didn't your father object?”
“Oh, he did, most seriously. Threatened to disown me and everything.”
“Did he come around?”
The Major shook his head. “He never did. He struck my name from the family rolls and forbade my name to be spoken in his house. As far as he was concerned, I no longer existed in his eyes.”
“I’m sorry sir.”
“Don’t be. I came to terms with my birth family a long time ago. The army is my family now and has been for a long while.”
There was a buzz, then a voice from an overhead speaker said, “One hour to Jump. Begin securing procedures.”
Tanaga motioned to the door. “You had best see to your lance. We’ll talk again later.”
“Yes sir.” Keller stepped back and executed a salute. Tanaga drew up to attention and returned the salute with a crisp one of his own. Keller left the compartment swiftly, leaving Tanaga alone with his thoughts.
I gave him my best reasons for this Exodus. But is it enough?
Part two on Friday.