The face of a young cadet appeared on the holoscreen. He looked quite agitated: “Sir, we have received a priority communication from Sector Logistics Command. Code key is ‘personal’.”
Andrew Gaspurr looked up from his displays of market data and analysis graphics showing the commodities trends of the past week. “Put it through, Philips.”
“Sir!” The cadet’s face vanished and was replaced by the SLC logo and authentication screen. Gaspurr entered his key while the cam scanned his retina. When the protocol was successfully finished the logo was replaced by the smile of Lieutenant Commander Hobbs. He was the Chief Coordinating Officer of the Erawate division and generally a well-meaning man. However, this time his face was quite stern.
“Commander Hobbs, is everything all right?”
“Chief Petty Officer Gaspurr, good to see you. No, I’m afraid nothing is all right. We have an emergency situation here so let me get straight to the point: A suspected Empire undercover operative eluded Sector Command and is en route through your area of operations. We definitely have to stop him.” He let the words settle for a second.
“CPO, you are ordered to locate and neutralize said spy. All necessary details are attached to this briefing. We know this might not be your routine as a Logistics officer but we put our fullest trust into your hands. The spy must not leave Federation space.”
Andrew nearly spilled his coffee all over the vidscreen. Did they just tell him to go and kill someone?
“Hobbs, is this your monday morning hangover test or something?”
The answering voice was between stern and desperate: “I am afraid no, Andrew. This is serious. It’s a dire situation and mobilizing an interception team would take us too long. We still don’t know how this could happen but we have to improvise. Well, you have to improvise. According to our logs you have a combat-grade Cobra that should be good to prep in minutes. We have to rely on that. Your task is to employ all means necessary, this is a critical situation, and time is of the essence.” As if he felt the uneasiness that was building in Andrew he added: “I’m sorry.”
It did nothing to ease Andrew’s doubts and the bad feeling that built inside his guts. It still did not fit and there was something missing here. Yes, Andrew was a Chief Petty Officer and used to strange jobs and creative solutions, but he was a Logistics Officer after all. His last assignment was to establish a reliable network of contractors for the Navy’s huge hunger for materials of all kinds: Metals, munitions, food, electronics, beer… those kinds of things. His last kill was in an evacuation simulation where pirates were threatening a Navy T-9 convoy. But this had a different quality, this meant someone had to die for real and he had to pull the trigger.
“Hobbs, I am no combat pilot. Nor do I have anything near a proven track record of combat experience. I perform market studies and locate clients and suppliers for the Navy logistics. This is far from being my area of skill. It’s like telling an ace pilot to find a suitable market for biowaste or micro-converters.”
Now there was a slight anger in the voice and Hobbs was getting just a bit too formal: “CPO Gaspurr, all necessary details are included in your briefing. We are running out of time. I find your orders are clear and instead of questioning them you should accept your assignment as Chief Petty Officer of the Federation Navy. In situations like these there is the need to rely on the chain of command and obey the orders we are given… The orders you are given.”
“Hobbs, this is so unreal. Is anybody holding a gun at your head and forcing you to do this? You have known me for years and now you give me this?”
Something dawned in Andrew’s mind and after a short pause he added: “Are you brass guys trying to cover something up? You said the target is a ‘suspected’ Empire spy? Do you have any evidence or proof of his guilt? I mean, is he running from the law or from some black ops you tried to pull off? I find it a bit hard to kill someone just because he is a suspect and since the Federation and Empire are not at war…”
“CPO Gaspurr, I repeat your orders one more time: You are ordered to locate and neutralize a man whom Sector Command suspects to be an enemy operative and who might be on the run with critical Federation secrets. You are authorized to employ all means necessary to prevent the spy from leaving Federation space. Now get on with it!”
Andrew leaned back. His mind was racing. He was unfit for the job and they knew it. What were they thinking and why did the Navy risk a PR disaster like this? Or did they willingly take it into account? Both powers were at an uneasy peace these days. The Treaty of Beta Hydri forbade them to use open or covert military operations against each other but everybody and their mothers knew that both the Federation and the Empire fought on through their placeholders and freelancers.
“Andrew?” Hobbs was getting nervous.
Finally he came to a decision. “I think, Hobbs, what is necessary is to inform you that the Empire and the Federation are not in a state of open war and that under these premises your order would constitute a capital crime: Murdering a guy who isn’t even supposed to be trialled and who may have some of your stuff. Because of this I reject the order on grounds of conscience. Find yourselves another thug, a freelancer or even a good lawyer who can sue your ‘suspect’.”
“CPO, I once again…”
“Sayonara, Hobbs! I have no time for this!” With a final grimace Chief Petty Officer Andrew Gaspurr cut off the comms. He then instructed Cadet Philips to act as firewall for outside calls, took a long look around his office and began to pack his things and rearrange his agenda for the next days.
Not an hour later, he got his ‘invitation’ to explain himself and his actions in a Federation Navy inquiry.