"Helm, you are clear to exit the Starlance."
"Roger, sir." The St. Louis
's helmswoman complied, and the familiar blue vortex of the Starlance corridor was replaced first by a white flash, and then by Ruba Pegasi's starfield. Santiago thought he detected a palpable air of relief as the massive carrier dropped back into realspace. Starlance travel had long been a safe mode of transport, but men and women had never quite lost their fear of the etheric realm. Santiago repressed a shudder as he remembered the documentary on the loss of the Horizon
from Dr. Townsend's Subspace Physics class.
The fleet's leading elements had already arrived ahead of the flagship, and more CRF vessels streamed into the system as the carriers deployed their Combat Aerospace Patrol wings. The 4th was still well within League territory, but Santiago was taking no chances. If an enemy fleet had slipped behind Allied lines, a sneak attack on an unprepared reinforcement fleet would have been disastrous. Also, it kept the pilots sharp for when the 4th would have to jump into a contested system.
Leaving the bridge to Captain Kerr, Santiago began his trek to the briefing room. He'd judged that now, approximately two days before battle, was the best time to bolster his crew's morale with a "Zeal Speech." The Rear Admiral knew that most foreigners stereotyped Britannia as a nation of backward romanticists playing knight in shining armor. In fact, Santiago knew that just as the CRF's anachronistic-looking plate armor was actually a vacuum- and puncture-resistant polymer-alloy combat uniform, a keen understanding of military psychology informed the CRF's glittering ceremonies and talk of knightly valor. FireSpace: Green Planet (it was a deep and informative study of subspace war and military psychology, so playing it was an intellectually justified use of the Rear Admiral's time. No, seriously.) had realistically described soldiers' psychological stress and its consequences in a prolonged war. As long as men and women still manned humanity's warships, mental health would be a key component of any front-line fighting force. Britannia's cultural focus on martial heroism, with all its pageantry and knightly imagery, imbued its citizens with an honest psychological stability which Santiago thought other nations lacked. Hence, the CRF could rely on enthusiastic and courageous recruits, who would be further refined by the crucibles of military training and service into soldiers whom commanders could rely upon to risk death, follow orders, and remain on the front line without cracking under pressure. The War College had taught Britannian commanders to reinforce and efficiently use their subordinates' loyalty, using the most effective techniques and theories which modern psychology could provide. Of course, no system could operate flawlessly under the strain of human error; the dissension in 2CRF following Lorric's retreat against Her Majesty's wishes was proof that even Britannia's morale could be strained by scandal. The CRF was, nevertheless, a model of carefully-promoted martial valor with no equal in Terran space.
One classic CRF morale-raising technique, in use since the dawn of history, was the dramatic rallying speech. CRF admirals, to no one's surprise, could deliver excellent ones. Santiago's study of Spohn's Rules of Warfare
had taught him that such speeches, even to a CRF crew, could only be used effectively about once every three days, or else their effect would be cheapened. The Rear Admiral mounted the podium in the main briefing room, glancing over the assembled crowd of officers. He knew his speech was also being simulcast fleet-wide, and whether or not he wanted it, someone would be putting it up on GalVideo for all Terran space to see. The three members of his brain trust and a few aides sat behind him, and above them was a massive holo-projection, presently showing the CRF insignia. Santiago had always lacked Lorric's sheer charisma in delivering speeches, but knew how to tug his men's heartstrings with carefully-chosen words. He cleared his throat, checked the mic (counting his blessings that one piece of equipment in this fleet worked right) and launched into his speech.
"Men and women of 4th Fleet, this is your Admiral speaking. We will be entering battle in approximately two days. Sadly, our enemies will not accept any peace besides submission to their cruel empire, which is no option at all. To flee, or even to flinch, is to leave your Queen, your country, your loved ones to the mercies of a merciless foe, and to die bereft of your honor. Hence, we will fight. You will be called to meet and perhaps exceed our military's exalted standards, and you will
do so, because true zeal burns in your hearts, and because all of you simply have no other choice. If you are confident in our victory, that confidence will reinforce and justify itself with victory; if you despair to face our alien aggressors, your despair and cowardice will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If all officers and men of 4th Fleet do their duty without flinching, Britannia will see tomorrow, even if many of us will not. This will be our Tours, our Lepanto, our Vienna. The survival of our civilization will hinge on our performance in the field, and upon the will of Almighty God. Britannia expects that every man and woman will do their duty. Dismissed."
The crowd erupted in a standing ovation as Santiago left the room. One Zeal Speech down. Let's hope it sticks.
A few hours later, Santiago was alone in his quarters, dictating a message to his friend and fellow admiral.
"Lorric, I'm sorry for the losses which 2CRF suffered in the First Battle of Aldebaran." No doubt, it would not be the last. "I still remember having tea with Captain Kewell of the Glasgow
. At least he and his ship died covering the Soaring Spirit
, with the dignity befitting CRF officers." I only hope they went to a better place.
"Also, be aware that I personally support your decision to withdraw from Aldebaran, even against Her Majesty's wishes. The lives of your crew and the strength of your fleet were more important."
"On a more cheery note," Santiago gave a wry smile, "check GalVideo for my Zeal Speech. You know I've always gone for short and sweet. Let's see whose can get more views."
Slipping back into his serious tone, he finished succinctly. "Lorric, if you need me, I'm coming. Computer, end message and send."