Graham Paul: The battle at the Moons of Hell

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Graham Paul The battle at the Moons of Hell
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Graham Sharp Paul

The battle at the Moons of Hell

Friday, July 10, 2398, Universal Date (UD)

Federated Worlds Space Fleet College, Terranova Planet

Rear Admiral Jan Fielding, the flag officer commanding, Federated Worlds Space Fleet College, sat back in her chair and sighed heavily as she turned to the large picture window behind her desk.

“I don’t like this one little bit, Joseph,” she said, staring out at the broad expanse of parade ground across which squads of first-year cadets moved like small black robots, harassed and harangued every step of the way by other small black robots. But Fielding saw none of them, her face troubled and drawn.

The tall, solidly built man standing slightly to one side nodded as Fielding turned back to her desk. “Not many of us do, sir. But now that Admiral al-Rawahy has endorsed the official report of the board of inquiry, there’s nothing more to be done. But at least the matter was dealt with administratively rather than under military justice.”

“I know, I know. But Admiral al-Rawahy’s as concerned about this whole matter as we are.”

“I wouldn’t know, sir.” Bukenya’s voice was so deliberately diplomatic, the sharp-edged planes that made up his face so carefully arranged into an expressionless blue-black mask, that Fielding couldn’t help smiling.

“Yes, yes. Quite right, Joseph.” Fielding accepted the unspoken criticism. What admirals might or might not have said to each other was not something she should be talking about. “Okay, let’s get on with it.”

“Sir.” Turning, Bukenya moved to the door and pulled it open a little too sharply, Fielding thought. Let’s not make it any worse than it already is, she told herself.

“Senior Cadet Helfort? The admiral will see you now.”


The young man, immaculate in razor-creased dress blacks, marched into the room and came rigidly to attention in front of the battered oak desk, a relic from Old Earth, it was said. Only a slight trembling of the fingertips and a thin sheen of sweat across the forehead betrayed his feelings. The admiral watched as Michael Helfort fought to slow his breathing before looking her square in the eye.

“Senior Cadet Helfort, sir.”

“At ease, Helfort.”


For a moment Fielding found herself dragged back more years than she cared to think about. It had been a long time since she had last seen Helfort’s father, but the boy could have been he. Relatively short by Fed standards, Michael Helfort had his father’s well-muscled, thickset build, the shoulders broad, the same untidy hair. A fraction too long, though, even for a senior cadet about to graduate, she noted. The eyes were his father’s, too, hazel in color and deeply set in a faced tanned to a dark brown. But most noticeable was the way he looked at her; he might have his father’s eyes, but he had his mother’s penetratingly direct gaze. She’d been a very fine officer, as Fielding recalled, and a loss to Space Fleet; some even said that Kerri Helfort had been the finest rear admiral Space Fleet had never had.

The admiral shook herself. This was no time for reminiscing, no time for worrying, though she didn’t like to think about what Helfort’s parents would say when they got the news. She turned her eyes back to the old-fashioned paper document that sat dead center on the otherwise empty desk. The single page of thick cream-colored paper, signed by Vice Admiral al-Rawahy and sealed with his massive red wax seal, heavy with the power and might of the Federated Worlds, mocked her concerns. Leaning forward slightly, she started to read, her voice flat and colorless.

“To Senior Cadet Michael Wallace Helfort, serial number FC021688J.

“From Vice Admiral Abdulla bin Issa al-Rawahy, director of Fleet training, Federated Worlds Space Fleet.”

Fielding paused. This was not right. Michael just stood there motionless, the sweat threatening to bead across his forehead.

Fielding forced herself to continue.

“Whereas the board of inquiry convened by my authority on Monday 15 June 2398 Universal Date, having reviewed all relevant evidence and having heard all persons with knowledge of the matter under inquiry, namely, the unsafe operation of Planetary Heavy Lander (Assault) Registration Number PHLA-789465 while under your command on Thursday 14 May 2398, Universal Date contrary to OPS-MAN-PHLA-2245, has completed its report.

“And, whereas the conclusion of the board of inquiry that you, Senior Cadet Michael W. Helfort, did act in a manner risking injury or death to crew, passengers, and ground-based civilians has been endorsed by me following my full and detailed review of the report of the board of inquiry, I hereby delegate the matter for administrative action by your military commander, Rear Admiral Jan Carlotta Fielding, Flag Officer commanding, Space Fleet College of the Federated Worlds.

“Signed and sealed this day, Friday 3 July 2398 Universal Date, by me, Abdulla bin Issa al-Rawahy, vice admiral, director of Fleet training, Federated Worlds Space Fleet.”

Fielding placed the document back on the desk, taking a moment to position it dead center before looking up directly into the eyes of the young man in front of her, eyes that, she was pleased to see, looked straight back at her unblinkingly.

“Senior Cadet Helfort. Do you understand what I have just said?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are there any questions that you would like to ask at this stage?”

“No, sir.” Helfort stood unmoving, the sweat beading on his forehead threatening to run down into his eyes.

Fielding nodded. “Very well. In that case, I am required by Article 2349.7 of the Federated Worlds Code of Military Justice to ask you whether or not you accept the findings of the board of inquiry. If you do not, and it is your right not to, the report of the board of inquiry together with any comments by Vice Admiral al-Rawahy will be forwarded to the commander in chief, Federated Worlds Space Fleet, for further review. If you do accept the findings, it rests with me to determine the administrative action to be taken as a consequence of the report. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you require further time to consider your answer or to consult any natural person or any licensed AI-generated persona?”

“No, sir. I do not.”

“Very well. What is your decision?”

“Sir, I accept the findings of the board,” Helfort said stiffly.

Thank God, thought the admiral. She had watched Helfort through half-closed eyes as he’d struggled to make the right decision. You are your parents’ son, she thought, and you’ve made the right decision even if that painful fact may not be clear to you right now.

“Very well. Lieutenant Commander Bukenya will attest to your decision, a copy of which will be commed to you and to your personnel file.

“It now falls to me to prescribe what administrative action shall be taken as a consequence of the report of the board of inquiry.” She paused while Bukenya handed her a second thick cream-colored document, this one marked with her own red seal, smaller than al-Rawahy’s but still impressive. As it always did, it struck her how archaic a lump of red wax stamped onto a bit of paper really was even if it was DNA-coded and time-stamped to make the document unarguably genuine. But still, that was the way things were done in the Federated Worlds Space Fleet, as they always had been. Who was she to argue?

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