And another chapter! Because I'm bored and have literally nothing to do! Well, nothing I
<...are out of control! You disobeyed direct orders from your superior. You engaged in a firefight without approval. You left the designated combat zone without permission. You endangered your entire squad, and you mutinied against your squadron commander.>
Kirian's tone wasn't overly harsh, no. He was relishing every word as if it were the most delicious strain of arkadia grass straight from the heart of the Homeworld, Ossanlin could tell. Both were standing in Prince Kuro's office within the Tree's docking bay. The Flight Commander himself was not present as he oversaw the cooldown and repair of the Dome's fighters. He'd graciously allowed Kirian to use the office for his own purposes.
<You're a loose cannon, aristh. Saying aristh, frankly, is generous, because that will be your rank if you are fortunate. The demotion will be the least of your worries. It's possible they could bring you before the courts...you could be decommissioned in dishonor, your entire family shamed.> Kirian turned his cold, mirthful eyes on Ossanlin. For his own part, Ossanlin remained silent and stoic. He wouldn't give the blow-hard the reaction he obviously wanted.
<What do you think of that aristh? The prodigy, the best out of the Academy in a decade, brought low after less than a year of service. How will your teachers feel? Or your parents? Mmm...it's really quite a shame after all.> Nothing in Kirian's eyes or tone of thought belied the pity he was ironically espousing as an insult. <But if you are fortunate, and let's face it, you have been more fortunate than most, you will be demoted and I'm afraid you'll likely be one of the longest-running arisths in the history of the military. You know how these things go. I sincerely hope you didn't have aspirations of becoming a Prince...that will no longer be possible as I'm sure you already know. And of course you'll never fly again. But I'm sure you'll make a perfectly reasonable sanitation technician.>
Ossanlin could cut the smugness with his tail-blade if he wanted to. Truthfully the most irritating thing that Kirian had demonstrated thus far was his disdain for sanitary technicians. Ships couldn't run without them, and domes would be impossible. They did important, meaningful work, though of course the only thing that mattered to Kirian was flying.
Kirian jumped slightly as the office door slid open. He immediately stopped what he was about to say, but grinned again as soon as he saw Prince Caseel. <Ah, Prince. I'm glad you could join us. I would like it officially documented that I have filed multiple reprimands upon Ossanlin-Rethin-Sephirel.>
Caseel raised his brow, seeming curious. <Oh? Well I suppose you'll have to declare them then. I know as an efficient officer, you'll want to declare them now. Very well, I have a few moments to spare.>
Kirian looked slightly surprised, but his smile deepened. Ossanlin's own hearts fluttered for the first time. Kirian wouldn't be wrong if Caseel were actually willing to declare Kirian's reprimands. For the first time, Ossanlin's anger mixed with fear, though none of it translated to his face.
<Ah, yes...firstly, insubbordination and disobediance to his commading officer. Secondly, engaging in unsanctioned hostilities involving government-issued property. Thirdly, dereliction of duty in a time of crisis. And finally, mutiny against command.> Kirian looked more smug than ever.
<I see. And will you be reprimanding the rest of your squadron for participating in mutiny?>
Kirian was taken aback for a moment before answering. <Of course, it will have to be noted on their permanent records.>
<Mutiny is a serious charge, Kirian. If sustained, your entire squadron, save yourself, will be permanently grounded and possibly discharged.> Caseel's tone was matter-of-fact.
For the first time, Kirian's smugness slipped, before he turned a vengeful gaze back to Ossanlin. <He's responsible, they are not.>
<Oh, I see. I wasn't aware our young Warrior could control minds.> Caseel turned an appraising gaze on Ossanlin. Meanwhile Ossanlin merely chuckled on the inside. He could begin to see where this was going, though not the full depth of it.
Kirian spluttered a bit before recovering. <He's dangerous, Prince. He's the one who must be decommissioned! He almost got Arkani killed on that freighter! The fact that he boarded a freighter and forced poor Arkani along is more than enough!>
<The way I see it, Kirian, your Arkani would be dead had Ossanlin not taken the actions he had. Or did you forget how you and the rest of your active squadron abandoned her with two bugs on her tail?> Caseel turned his penetrating gaze back to Kirian.
Ossanlin could see Kirian's skin darkening beneath his fur. That had been a failure on the Prince-Lieutenant's part. Especially since he'd kept a ship in reserve for no apparent reason.
<But don't fret, Prince-Lieutenant. Swiftblade will not be grounded nor will they be decommissioned. In fact, they will be commended for their action regarding the Ghostwall Offensive. After all, they played a crucial role in stopping the Yeerk attack.> Caseel smiled genuinely.
<Of course, thank you Prince.> Kirian looked mollified, his skin-tone returning to a normal coloration. His smug, disdainful look returned as he looked back at Ossanlin. <Well, you have heard the reprimands. I've no doubt he will be demoted if not decommissioned for his reckless behavior. If you'll excuse me Prince, I'd like to oversee the dress-down of my fighter.>
As Kirian turned to leave, Caseel spoke up. <You have not been dismissed, Prince-Lieutenant. As it happens, I'm ready to rule upon the reprimands you've issued forth.>
Kirian's eyes narrowed, but he turned to regard Prince Caseel again, sparing only a stalk-eye for Ossanlin, who had continued to remain silent and stoic for the entire time.
<Firstly, Prince-Lieutenant, your charge of insubbordination and disobedience is not substantiated.> Kirian's eyes flashed and he looked about to speak up when Caseel raised a hand. <Yes, you issued an order for the Warrior to remain at the Tree. He followed that order. But you must remember, Kirian, after quoting me all of these regulations, sub-rider declaration 3935? Ossanlin was the last remaining deployed fighter at the Tree. You know full well that this comes with an automatic, temporary promotion to Prince Lieutenant in order to facilitate home-ship defense. So you see, he did not disobey a direct order from a superior, but from an equivalent officer. Conflicting orders from officers of the same level issues a written warning to both officers, nothing more.>
Kirian's eyes were wide open, incredulous. It was almost humorous to watch, but Ossanlin forced himself to remain calm and collected. Declaration 3935 was an archaic rule, one that was barely ever enforced.
<Secondly, in battle and in times of war, all assets are expected to engage with full potential. Every single warrior under my command was expected, at the time of Ossanlin's engagement, to fully engage. He was merely following my standing directive.>
Kirian's face grew more and more angry with each passing moment. He wasn't fit to be in command of anything. One shouldn't show emotion so openly, especially to other members of the military, particularly those in your command, or those in command of yourself.
<Thirdly, Ossanlin did not hold his duty in dereliction. He flowed to the secondary combat zone, which turned out in point of fact to be the far more important of the two. Moving between combat zones is done at personal or commander's discretion. Since he was acting home-ship defense commander, he was no longer under your command, and he shared your rank. The discretion was his.> Caseel returned Kirian's incredulous gaze with his own perfectly calm one.
<And fourthly, Prince-Lieutenant, since he shared your rank and was not under your command, he did not mutiny. In fact, you gave no orders during this time whatsoever. In the absense of direct command, squadrons are allowed to move and engage at personal discretion. They flowed to help Ossanlin with his objective. So, Prince-Lieutenant, there will be no courts and no reprimands. Ossanlin will receive full honors for his pivotal and heroic role in this battle.>
All signs of smugness were gone. Kirian was now only a ball of pure, unadulterated rage. With obvious great difficulty and bare personal restraint, Kirian spoke. <You are...> He turned to look at Ossanlin. <He is a threat to the stability of my squadron. You have my word that as long he's a member of my Swiftblade, he will NEVER fly.>
Caseel merely regarded Kirian with a calm gaze. Just as the Prince-Lieutenant turned to leave, Caseel spoke up again, freezing the other in his tracks. <Oh I have some good news for you as well, Kirian. As acting commander of the heroic Swiftblade squadron during the Ghostwall defensive, you are being promoted. Congratulations Prince-Commander. It's been a long time in coming.>
Kirian turned once again, this time the color draining from his face. <I did not request a promotion!>
<And yet you're receiving one. Now obviously being a mere squad-commander is much too small a task for someone of your honored rank. The Tessalis has been without a Flight Commander for well over a month. I've already recommended you for the position. No doubt you will be receiving it, given your expertise and long, long history with Tail Fighters.> Caseel smiled proudly.
Kirian, on the other hand, looked sick to his hooves. His face had become gaunt and pallid. <Prince...I do not wish to transfer. I'm...perfectly fine with remaining at the rank of Prince Lieutenant.> His speech was nearly private it was so quiet in Ossanlin's mind. <I signed on for another term with the express guarantee that my flight status would not be revoked...>
<Flight Commanders remain in active flight status, Prince-Commander. Yours has not been revoked. You've merely been...promoted.> Caseel's grin was no longer as warm as it had been and Ossanlin suddenly understood what it meant.
Nothing was more important to Kirian than flying Tail Fighters. That was all he'd ever wanted to do. While it was true that Flight Commanders retained an active flight status, they rarely, if ever, actually flew. They would be deployed as a last resort in battle, but that was it. What Caseel was really doing was stripping Kirian of what he wanted most. It was almost diabolic, though Kirian deserved nothing less. He needed to be removed from direct squadron command after this most recent battle. Even Ossanlin could see that.
<But...Swiftblade... Prince they will be without a squad commander!>
<Oh, don't you worry about Swiftblade, Kirian. Their new commander has already proven his worth quite soundly. Downing multiple bugs, a capital ship, and boarding and destroying a freighter. Piecing together the Imperial plan without guidance before anyone else...well...and already commanding the rest of the squadron during the offensive when their own commander failed. I can think of no one better to assume your position. Congratulations, Prince-Commander.> Caseel's smile deepened, and Ossanlin's hearts jumped purely in surprise. He himself would be assuming the role of Squadron Commander of Swiftblade?
Meanwhile, Kirian stiffened visibly. His face contorted through many emotions from anger, to fear, to sadness and pain. He slowly turned, not sparing a single eye for Ossanlin, and walked slowly toward the office door. Stiffly, almost wooden. It was obvious he was in shock.
Ossanlin turned toward Kirian and gave him a full tail-salute, speaking up for the first time since the other's tirade had begun. <It was an honor serving under you, Prince-Commander. I wish you well on your new assignment.> The words were not cutting, or antagonizing. They weren't condescending nor were they venomed. In truth, Ossanlin felt bad for his previous ICO. If anything, he actually meant what he said. Kirian stopped, shivered a bit and then continued on out the door of the office.
Ossanlin turned his attention to Caseel. <May I speak freely, Prince?>
<I welcome it, Ossanlin. What's on your mind?> Caseel's demeanor had changed back to warm and friendly.
<I am uncomfortable with the situation.>
<In what way, Command-Warrior?>
Ossanlin stopped short. Had he...had he said "Command-Warrior?" Really? Had Ossanlin really only spent less than one standard day as a Warrior before being promoted to Command Warrior?
<I...well...> Ossanlin paused to gather his thoughts again. <I...am uncomfortable being the reason behind Kirian's removal from his current position.>
<You're not the reason, Ossanlin, nor will you be blamed. It is improper for a Prince-Commander to remain as a Squad-Commander. I have faith that Kirian will be a successful Flight Commander, even if it isn't exactly what he wants.> Caseel smiled a bit.
Ossanlin gave his Prince a no-nosense look in return. <You wanted him removed from the position, Prince.>
Caseel smiled a bit brighter. <I can see why Raigar likes you, Command-Warrior. Most senior staff thought it inappropriate that Kirian was still actively flying in a Tail-Fighter squadron. You fly a fighter, and if you prove yourself a capable commander, you move on to something with more responsibility. If not, you retire.> Caseel paused, looking over Prince Kuro's desk before returning his stalk eyes to Ossanlin.
<You have to understand, Ossanlin...there are a lot of Tail Fighter pilots who don't want to move on. They get...addicted...to it. It's all they ever want to do. That in and of itself is not the problem. The problem comes when these people become so comfortable, that they stop really trying. When Tail Fighter pilots get comfortable, they start becoming too self-assured. After a time, they get to feeling invincible. This feeling of invincibility leads to dangerous lapses in judgement which can result in their deaths, or in the deaths of their squad mates or of others. Kirian truly displayed how unfit he had become for this line of work today. He nearly killed one of his squad-mates, and broke down into ineffectual antagonization late in the defensive. He cannot command a squadron anymore, nor can he fly. He would never obey the orders of another Squad Commander. It's far past time for him to have moved on. Finally he pushed me into forcing him to move on with his actions today. You're not responsible for any of that.> Caseel's tone was nothing but reassuring.
<He will see me as the reason, my Prince.> Ossanlin moved a stalk-eye to regard the door through which Kirian had exited a few minutes ago.
<I'm afraid he will, but nothing will change that, Ossanlin. You must understand, Command-Warrior, you cannot please everyone. You cannot befriend everyone. You need only have the respect of those who follow your orders. And you must not be afraid to issue those orders for any reason. In all things, Ossanlin, you must exude confidence. Note that I did not say that you must have full confidence in everything you do, but you must exude it to your Warriors to hearten them.> Caseel paused, looking Ossanlin over from stalks to hooves. <You impress me, Command-Warrior. You already have the bearing of a senior officer. To withstand Kirian without losing your composure...I foresee you'll make a very good officer some day. To be honest, I would've promoted you to Prince-Lieutenant if it wouldn't have flown in the face of every protocol we have in place. Command-Warrior will do for now, but you are well on your way.>
Ossanlin repressed a blush at the compliments. <Do you really think it wise for me to take command of Swift Blade, my Prince? Won't the others see it as an insult?>
<After today, Ossanlin? You took control naturally, and they followed your orders. Orders which led to the successful foiling of a potential null-bomb of a Yeerk offensive. I don't think you'll have any problems with them whole-heartedly accepting your command. One of your first duties will be to name a second.>
<Arkani, my Prince. She did as much as I did, and she deserves a promotion as well.>
<Not to worry, Ossanlin. Arkani has also been promoted to Command-Warrior. We'll be looking to replace Kirian's slot with a different flier, obviously. I'm assuming Kirtik will be paired with the new-comer, whomever that might be?>
<Yes, my Prince. Deknil and Irania already have a good wing-mate relationship. I hope that Kirtik will not perceive the action as a slight to his abilities. All of them were instrumental in the success of the operation.>
<Of course, Command-Warrior.> Caseel smiled to himself. Ossanlin couldn't tell why, but he thought it might have something to do with the way he'd accepted command so easily. He surprised himself, in fact. It felt very natural. <Now, you need to go dress-down your fighter. I would recommend you also call a squad meeting as soon as possible to let them know of the changes in Swift Blade.>
<Sir, would it not be better for them to hear the news from you?> Ossanlin felt a tad sheepish.
<They're your squadron, Command-Warrior. You're responsible for that.> With that, Caseel left the Flight Commander's office to attend to other duties, leaving Ossanlin all but reeling.
The door slid open again and an andalite, slightly older than Ossanlin himself, snapped a sharp tail-salute. Ossanlin returned it woodenly. <Command-Warrior, I was told to bring these to you.> The aristh proffered up two padded boxes. Ossanlin instantly recognized them as belt insignia containers.
<Thank you, aristh.> Ossanlin took both and gently opened the first one, the double-crescented bar gleaming in the lights of the office. After a moment, Ossanlin realized the aristh was still standing there. He looked back up and something clicked in his brain. <Oh..uh, dismissed.>
The aristh saluted again and left the office, leaving Ossanlin bemused once again. He slowly removed his Warrior belt badge, he'd just donned it for the first time this morning, and placed the Command-Warrior badge in its place on his belt almost reverently. He placed the Warrior badge inside the empty box and tucked it into a pouch on his utility belt. He peeked into the other box to see another Command-Warrior badge, doubtlessly for Arkani.
Ossanlin composed himself mentally, thinking about what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it, before trotting out to the walkways toward Swift Blade's series of docking bays. He could see Deknil and Irania by their ships. Kirtik was down on the docking-bay floor speaking with one of the technicians. Finally Arkani popped out of her ship's bay. He subconsciously rotated his shoulder...treatmen t for both himself and Arkani had involved morphing out and morphing back. The damage was gone, but he could swear he still felt a phantom pain where the gash had been.
He pulled out his comm and noticed that it had been updated remotely by his ARC to include control of Swiftblade's command priority channel. He selected it and opened a channel with all four of his squad mates simultaneously. <Swiftblade, meet by the ship-bays. We have some matters to discuss.> The others all looked at their comms and then around the bay, noticing Ossanlin walking toward Swiftblade's ships. None of them responded...the order didn't need a response, but they would all be able to tell it had been Ossanlin's voice giving the order and not Kirian's.
By the time Ossanlin reached the bays, all four were standing there waiting. Ossanlin saw all of them glance at his belt badge. Arkani's eyes shot up. Irania chuckled and Deknil merely nodded. Kirtik was hard to read. <Thank you all for gathering so efficiently.> He paused, nodding to each of them. <As of today, Kirian has been promoted to the rank of Prince-Commander. He has been vetted for the position of Flight Commander aboard another vessel.> Arkani put a hand to her breathing slits in shock, but Deknil only nodded again. Kirtik's eyes seemed to be filled with grudging understanding. <I think we can all agree that he has put in more than enough time in a Tail Fighter to qualify for both of these promotions.>
<As such, I have been advanced to the rank of Command-Warrior and I have been placed in command of Swift Blade. I have humbly accepted the position, and I hope to earn trust from each of you over the next few cycles.>
<You already have it, sir.> Arkani eye-smiled. Irania smirked and Deknil nodded again. Kirtik looked a bit wary.
<I appreciate that, Arkani. I also have something here for you.> Ossanlin held up the box to Arkani. She gasped a bit and took it from him, opening the lid. She smiled brightly at the badge inside. <You've been advanced to the rank of Command-Warrior as well. I am also naming you as my Second.>
Arkani's eyes widened before she smiled again and then tail-saluted. <Thank you, sir! I accept. And I promise never to leave your six.>
<Now that all of that is out of the way, I want you all to know that I respect each and every one of you. Today's battle was hard-fought, and it wouldn't have been successful without each and every one of us. You three destroyed more bugs than I could count from the wreckage. The boarding couldn't have been successful without you all. And Arkani, your support onboard was irreplacable. We did something great today. We saved Honornet. With it, we may have saved the Alpha Line and thousands of lives. That's why Swiftblade is still the military's best fighter squadron! And we're only going to keep getting better! Swiftblades, strike!> Ossanlin and the rest of his comrades did the squadron's unique slashing salute with their tails, smiling. Even Kirtik.
<Now, let's make sure the techs don't blow out our actuators.> Irania laughed loudly and Deknil smirked. Kirtik chuckled for his part.
<<Ossanlin. I mean, sir....thank you for all of this. You...well you made me believe in myself and I did things today that I thought I could never do. So, thank you.>>
Ossanlin smiled over at Arkani. She'd already donned her Command-Warrior badge. <<Of course, Arkani. The only thing that limits you is your own mind. You've been too hard on yourself. You're capable of doing anything you put your mind upon.>> He paused and eyesmiled at her again. <<And thank you for showing me kindness and respect when no one else would.>>
Arkani blushed a bit, but nodded, still smiling, before moving back to her own fighter bay to finish the dress-down. Ossanlin did likewise. A dark thought suddenly hit him...what if Arkani was Sector Seven? He shook his head...no she was only a Warrior when they met. He was a Command-Warrior now and they still hadn't contacted him as Raigar said they would. Of course he'd only been a Warrior for a day...less even. He tried to dismiss the nagging thought, but no matter how hard he tried, it simply wouldn't go away. He finally managed to push the thought out of his head and sunk into the process of down-dressing his fighter. Arkani couldn't be Sector Seven. She just couldn't be...