Having just arrived from Lyman, General Johnson’s staff lead him through an inspection tour of the current status of Henry base construction. Johnson, Pomeroy, Phineas and Eyre had piled into a staff vehicle to drive through the various planet-side construction projects. Johnson’s staff was well aware he preferred sales calls over military briefings. They all tried to treat Johnson like he was a customer who purchased components and services to create a product.
General Johnson’s first plan was to ship all of the construction materials for his new Henry Base from his Lyman Base. This proved to be a logistics nightmare when Johnson couldn’t organize enough ships able to take materials to an uncharted planet. He fought for weeks with his superior officers and the Core Planets government. Not even the civilian transportation brokers could support the kind of military base construction that General Johnson had in mind.
The final plan, after months lost in squabbling, was to ship miniature factories to the planet, build construction materials there, and assemble the final base on site. This required military supply lines and support until the base could be self-sustaining. Someone had to manage the thousands of troops confined to small orbiting transport ships.
Jammed into the transport vehicle with Johnson and the other officers, Pomeroy shuffled through a stack of reports. Pomeroy would juggle the presentations based on Johnson’s mood.
“The MP’s on the Horicon had to arrest two marines and two freighters. The marines are in the brig awaiting court martial,” Pomeroy read.
Johnson looked befuddled, confused by the news.
“Jailed? What the hell for?”
“Drugs. Fighting. The usual problems, sir.”
“Yes, sir. Lieutenant Colonel Cole reports that the Horicon is dangerously overcrowded,” Pomeroy read from his notes.
Johnson looked at the small cluster of officers wedged into the vehicle. They looked at him, blankly. The blankest of them was Lieutenant Colonel Pomeroy. Pomeroy was a professional pessimist, a lawyer by training and wealthy enough to purchase a Lieutenant Colonel rank. Pomeroy had made himself General Johnson’s personal assistant. He tried to execute as many of Johnson’s orders as he could, and act as the funnel for information presented to General Johnson.
“I want you to get the freighter pilots out of here. Send them all back to Lyman base. Clear this cluster out,” Johnson said.
“That was our original, uhm, plan,” Eyre began. “We couldn’t get the beacons installed according to your first schedule.”
“Beacons?” Phineas asked; he was partially aware of what Eyre was driving at, but preferred to try and embarrass Eyre by dragging out his elliptical answers.
“We were going use military transport ships. But they require a better-established navigation infrastructure that we have available to us.” Eyre said, scratching his head, irritated at explaining the obvious.
“So?” Phineas asked.
“Basically, after we tried to work around the problem, we’re stuck with civilian transport,” Eyre blurted.
Pomeroy looked at Johnson to see what Johnson’s opinion was of this contradiction.
Johnson fumed, “That’s the god-damned Core planets government for you! Attack the Outer Rim at Carillon. But no supplies to build a working base. How are you supposed to carry out an attack with thousands of marines and attack ships without a base?”
The officers stared blankly. The plan as they understood it from the Core Planets Government Network was just that simple: move all of the men and ships up to Carillon and blast it apart, forcing the Outer Rim to retreat. General Johnson, however, insisted on building Henry Base midway between the Core planets Lyman base and the Outer Rim Carillon base. While he was weak on military strategy, he knew when people were agreeing with him; he had created a group of command officers, lead by Pomeroy, who supported his every whim.
Since no one said anything, General Johnson started talking again. “Okay, then, cut their fees. If they can’t afford drugs, that’ll keep them quiet.”
The officers looked at each other for a moment.
“Last time we tried that, sir, we had trouble meeting our shipping schedules. We couldn’t find approved shippers or complete negotiations in time,” Eyre said. Everyone looked at him waiting for him to finish talking. “Basically, no one bids on the contracts,” he added. He started to say something more, then stopped.
“Advertise more widely, find some sober, reliable pilots,” Johnson said.
“Sir, this is the frontier. There aren’t many pilots that have the skills to fly out here,” Eyre drawled, bored of explaining the obvious to his superiors.
“Only the most incorrigible bastards. Bastards!” Pomeroy nodded, agreeing with the General. “Sir, if you want, I could—.” The vehicle lurched to a stop. They’d arrived at an agricultural dome. The dome’s outer airlock door slid open, and the vehicle rolled in. The airlock was long and low, to support eventual construction of a rail system for moving food around on the planet surface.
When the vehicle started roaring down the echoing tunnel, Johnson said, “Well, we can always court-martial the freighter pilots.”
There was an uncomfortable stirring among the officers.
“Sir, they’re civilians. They’re not subject to the code of military justice. Since this is occupied frontier, there aren’t any civilian authorities. Basically, we can only cancel their contracts,” Phineas said.
Phineas, a business partner of Johnson’s, had an engineering background and could understand the sometimes incomprehensible technical jargon of engineers. He considered himself pragmatic and careful, able to weigh the facts and make a rational judgment. Eyre, an engineer, found him pessimistic, opinionated and distrustful. Johnson had lured Phineas into military service, making Phineas one of the few junior officers who could oppose Johnson directly.
General Johnson looked closely at Pomeroy for the first time during the meeting. It was as if Johnson was trying to remember something.
“Sir, I could always—” Pomeroy began, struggling for some kind of action he could take.
The vehicle skidded to a stop again. They could see a cluster of construction workers standing around, idle. A military officer stood near by, disgust painted all over his face. They could see that he was lecturing his aide, who was busy scribbling notes on a small computer.
“If I may, sir, when we’ve finished the base, we won’t need the freighters. We just need a short-term solution,” the Pomeroy said.
“Exactly!” Johnson shouted. “That’s obvious. What’s the solution to their endless drunkenness and thievery?”
Johnson stared around at his staff with unconcealed vehemence. There was no answer. Johnson eased out of the vehicle, Pomeroy and the others following.
Colonel Edward Cole had been waiting for Johnson to arrive. Cole was a crisp, career military officer, and fuming over something. His real strength was in handling the complex tactical details of real combat. After a number of decisive victories as a junior officer, he had earned command of the frigate Whitehall. He was big and athletic; a competitive weight-lifter, able to clean and jerk more weight than men half his age.
“What the hell is this, Bill?” Cole asked, looming over Johnson.
Pomeroy tried to slip between the two men and mediate the conversation.
“Command and control, Ed,” General Johnson said, nodding at his own wisdom. “Command and control.”
Cole shook his head. “Command and control? For an advanced support base? What the hell are you building here? A capital city?”
“Ed, I know you want to press a rapid attack, but we’ll need support,” Johnson said.
Eyre and Phineas joined the other three men. Eyre started to speak, but Pomeroy silenced him with a gesture. Eyre scowled at Pomeroy, but kept silent.
“This isn’t support, this is colonization,” Cole shouted. “I don’t see how this will move the Outer Rim back to their original borders.”
Pomeroy waited for an indication from General Johnson. Johnson looked at the expectant faces surrounding him.
“Your job is defense,” Johnson replied. “Captain Eyre is in charge of construction.” Cole shook his head in disbelief.
“Do you know what these men are doing?” Cole asked.
Johnson looked around blankly. He could see that it was an agricultural dome; there was nothing growing yet. It was clear to him that they must be installing the rest of the agricultural equipment.
Pomeroy prompted Johnson, “I believe they’re finishing this Ag dome, sir.” Cole didn’t even look at Pomeroy. “No,” he said to Johnson. “They’re doing nothing. Do you know why? We don’t have the materials to keep them busy.” Cole looked around, and the vast, empty dome. “We’re too far into the frontier to build a base like this,” he said.
Johnson frowned; his staff looked uncomfortable. Even Pomeroy knew that materials were scarce and expensive, but Pomeroy would never confront Johnson. Phineas agreed with Cole, but found it hard to make the case crystal clear to General Johnson that he was expending mountains of money and accomplishing almost nothing.
Compounding the problem was the novelty of the base’s design. It was Eyre who had put forth an idea for a fortification that was radical by Core Planets standards. Johnson had embraced Eyre’s vision of creating an exact copy of an Outer Rim bases; an Outer Rim base that Core Planets considered impregnable.
“It’s those freighter pilots,” Johnson said. “They are the laziest and most ignorant people I’ve ever had the misfortune to command.”
Cole had reached his limit. He waved both hands at Johnson, shouting, “Read the mail! Stop all this construction. What are you actually doing to push the outer rim of Carillon base?”
Johnson shook his head. He had more to say, but Pomeroy leaned in between Johnson and Cole.
“Sir, we’re surveying the Outer Rim preparations.” Johnson backed up, nodding in agreement. Pomeroy, given some space, pushed his way between Johnson and Cole. Pomeroy raised an eyebrow, glanced around and gave a discrete nod to Cole.
Cole shook his head. “Who? Did you send Williams in the Horicon?” Pomeroy looked at the group of workers and whispered, “We aren’t patrolling in force, sir.” Pomeroy gave Cole another knowing look and a nod toward the workers.
Cole peered at Pomeroy, incredulous.
“What the hell are you doing?” he bellowed at Pomeroy.
“It’s simple, Ed,” Johnson said, stepping around Pomeroy. “We’ve sent Whiting undercover to gather intelligence.”
Pomeroy sighed at Johnson’s inability to maintain any confidential information. Cole didn’t waste time listening to any more. He stormed off to his own vehicle. Johnson’s staff heard him bellowing orders to his driver to get him back to the landing pad so he could get on the Whitehall, and off this base. The group of construction workers stood, staring idly at Cole’s vehicle and Johnson’s flock of officers.
“I tell you, without this supporting base, we can’t press any kind of attack. We’d have to fuel and victual ships for a very long flight. And if the Outer Rim ships evade us, we’d chase them all over this cluster until we were out of supplies,” Johnson said to no one in particular.
“They have a base” Phineas began, ready to rehash the argument.
“That’s not the point!” Johnson bellowed. “What if their force isn’t located at the base? If we attack it, we could be trapped between their base and their mobile units.”
Phineas was frequently stumped by Johnson’s line of thinking. He agreed with Johnson, since any other position was career suicide. But it was clear to Phineas that the Core Planets could fuel and victual ships, send them all the way to the Outer Rim base, and probably destroy it. This would leave any Outer Rim ships effectively stranded in the heart of a Cephalopod sector. A new Core planets base was neither necessary nor even useful. It was just a distraction.
Their tour was over; they piled into their vehicle. Phineas knew that they would return to the orbiting base and look for ways to solve the immediate construction problem. He wondered how long Johnson would ignore the real problem of encroachment on their borders.