"Hangover or no, you're giving the brief this morning," said Captain Jackson as he sauntered into Mike's cubicle.
Mike turned and looked at him with one eye shut, as a piston hammered his head. "I will have you know, I have never had a hangover in my life. This headache that is currently pounding me into the ground is entirely coincidental and based upon nervousness over the briefing. It is not the result of trying to drink officers who have far more experience and training in the imbibing of hard alcohol under the table."
"Same for the light sensitivity and the taste in your mouth?" asked the nattily dressed aide. Mike was fairly sure that the tailored uniform had not come off the rack at the Officers' Sales Store. Like Mike's it was probably Brooks Brothers or Halberds. The cloth was noticeably better and the fit was immaculate.
"Correct. Besides, in about three minutes the GalMed I just took will kick in and no more headache. To what do I owe the honor, Captain, sir?"
"Actually," said Captain Jackson, with a smile, "I think you have me by date of rank, Captain, sir."
"Ah, that would explain the confused look you perennially sport."
"Actually, that look comes with the position of aide."
"That I am familiar with," Mike agreed with a wince. "I held the position myself, briefly. Thank God there were no real aide's duties, though; I was basically the wild-hair guy for the GalTech program. But since there were no real aide duties it was a good place to stash me."
"So I've heard. I also heard you fought it tooth and nail."
"Well, the position of aide is one that is strongly political, no offense, and I'm lousy at passing canapés."
"Unlike us ring knockers?" asked the new aide with a raised eyebrow and an almost subconscious gesture of his right hand. The West Point ring briefly caught the light.
"I will admit that I have met only one mediocre West Point graduate," Mike said in oblique agreement.
"Thanks." The captain's brow furrowed. "Why do I suddenly suspect that is not the outstanding advertisement for West Point it at first sounds?"
"As I was saying, to what do I owe the honor?" asked Mike.
"Well, first the general sends his regrets. He won't be able to see you prior to the briefing, other items have suddenly come up, but he will see you at the reception afterwards."
"Tell the general, thank you, I can hold my own pecker just the same."
"Do you think the damn medal gives you the right to dispense with common courtesy?"
"No. I was a revolting SOB before I got the medal. Is there anything else?"
Captain Jackson's face worked for a minute. "No. But can I ask you something?"
"You just did." After a moment Mike relented. "Go ahead."
"You are about to go out in front of a bunch of goddamned senior brass, under the direction of CONARC, and tell them how CONARC—really meaning you—thinks they should handle their ACS forces. Now, if you show your ass, it's going to reflect poorly on my boss. Since one of my jobs is to make sure that doesn't happen, I've gotta find out if you're up to this briefing, because right now I am tempted to call General Horner and tell him his fair-haired boy is even more canned than last night and not up to the briefing."
"That would be bearing false witness, Captain," said Mike, casually. He obviously considered it an empty threat. He took a sip of his coffee and swished it around in his mouth. "And isn't there some sort of unwritten code at West Point about ratting?"
"There is a written code about reporting . . . questionable behavior. I would be following the written code. And good sense. I will stop this presentation if I think you can't answer questions civilly. Trust me, I know the system and how to use it. If General Horner doesn't pull you, there are other venues."
Mike smiled calmly for the first time in the encounter; it was like a tiger stretching to work out the kinks and the toothy smile was strangely feline as well.
"Like I said, Captain, to each his own. Very well, my problems are as follows. One." He flicked a finger up, counting. "I am about fed up with professional paper-pushers. It was paper-pushing, political, regular-Army assholes that fed me into a grinder on Diess and that probably will here on Earth. So—remember you pointed out that you are politically connected not me—you were probably the worst possible person to send to buck me up. Since Jack knows this, it was probably a test. I am in no mood for tests, which I will point out the next time I see him.
"Two." He flicked another finger. "I am giving a briefing for the senior commanders of America's defense on the subject of usage of ACS. I figure that there is about one chance in ten of those senior officers paying me any attention, despite the fact that these are the recommendations of their commander. We will undoubtedly institute the strategic logistical plan. After that single bone tossed to us, the ACS will get used in one of two ways: as cannon fodder, or as a last desperate measure.
"In the first case, ACS will be sent out unsupported by artillery or followed by conventional forces and thrown at the Posleen in movement-to-contact environments. They will be expected to make contact and stop the forces, without flank support or logistical tail. Most of the time, they will run out of juice, be surrounded and overrun. That will happen to about three battalions in the first month of skirmishing, on the East and West Coasts. This will be completely contrary to recommended doctrine.
"In the other scenario, ACS will be sent into close-contact infernos when all other methods, except nukes, have failed. They will be in close terrain, but, again, not in prepared positions. They will be given orders to hold on like the Spartans at Thermopylae and, by and large, much the same fate will befall them. This will include the fact that the follow-on forces will be ineffectively assembled or completely imaginary. And then the strategic scenario they died for will die with them. That scenario will occur repeatedly throughout the invasion. Again, it will be contrary to recommended doctrine.
"In the meantime, senior officers will complain that the MI are a waste of funds, that the same funds spent on conventional equipment would have given us much more capacity. The ones that complain the worst will be the most pissed off when the ACS are destroyed by improper implementation, and point to those defeats as support for their arguments. The fact that they would not even consider sending a conventional unit into the same environment will be completely overlooked. And the whole time, we, meaning the ACS, will be watching our numbers dwindle, without the ability to reinforce. It is not a pleasant scenario, sort of like suicide by arsenic: slow and painful."
"Well," said Captain Jackson, shaking his head at the Fleet Strike officer's vehemence, "congratulations, you have one last chance to get them to see the light."
"Captain, did you ever read 'The Country of the Blind'?"