Chapter 13
Calling the Man Out

3rd of Fourthmoon, Saintclair 12
E27, Elsanto Mountains, Neveland

Root was woken up by the whine of the hinges as someone opened his door. It was LeGrange.
"Hey there, Lieutenant," he said. "Sorry to wake you, but I thought you might like to know you're off confinement."
"You my parole officer now or somethin'?" Root asked.
"Centurion Tofels did say that when you're not around, I've got all your responsibility, so if you're asking if I have an interest in you not getting locked up again, then yes."
"Sorry 'bout that," Root said, sitting up in his rack. "You've got enough ta deal with as it is. That bastard's gonna wanna move your section anytime now."
LeGrange averted his eyes and said, "About that..." He paused for a moment before continuing, "Centurion Tofels ordered another scouting mission right after you were confined to quarters. Cale Russo and Second Squad. We haven't heard back from them..."
Root felt his stomach sink. He knew what was out there and he knew their chances.
"That son of a bitch..." he grumbled under his breath.
Root bolted upright, shouting, "That son of a bitch!"
Root made a beeline for the door. He had a score to settle with Centurion Tofels.
He didn't get far when LeGrange caught his arm.
"Lieutenant, wait!"
"Don't try ta stop me, LeGrange," Root growled. "Leggo a' me."
"Lieutenant," LeGrange pleaded, "at least put some pants on first."
Root looked down at himself and realized LeGrange had a good point.

* * *

"You son of a bitch!" Root shouted, slamming his hands down on Tofels' desk.
He was immediately seized by two burly Blackamoors who didn't succeed in stopping him at the door.
"Get your stinkin' paws off me!"
Tofels held up a hand and told his men, "Let him go."
The smug bastard seemed pretty well assured of his own safety and with good reason. Even with the blood all going to Root's head, he still had the presence of mind to remember Tofels' threat about what would happen should he meet with some misadventure.
Struggling with the two Blackamoors served to divert a lot of the explosive energy Root intended to unleash on the Centurion. Though still livid, the flames of his wrath were taken down a couple notches.
"You knew what was out there," Root growled. "You knew and you sent them out there anyway."
"They knew as well thanks to your loose lips, Lieutenant," Tofels replied. "Besides, it's still too early to say that anything has happened to them. For all you know, they may have safely arrived at the target."
"Have you heard from them?"
"I don't believe it's any of your concern."
"The hell it ain't."
"Those wireless packs aren't terribly reliable. We shouldn't put too much stock in them."
"And what do you intend to do when they don't come back?"
Tofels mockingly tsk-tsked in disapproval.
"So pessimistic, Lieutenant. If they don't come back, we'll have to go out in force, launch a full-scale movement on the target. We must accomplish our mission at all costs."
That sounded like a terrible idea, but Root wouldn't put it past him.
"You plannin' on sendin' your goons out there?" he asked.
"Them and anyone else who can handle a rifle," Tofels replied.
Root could already see the slaughter.
"What good will that do us if the Palatinians have a whole company of Alpini waiting for us?"
"We will have to kill all those Alpini or no one's going home."
Root shook his head. Even after all the demonstrations of the Centurion's bad sense, it was still staggering.
"You damn lunatic..."
Tofels tsk-tsked him again.
"Sticks and stones, Lieutenant," he said. "Instead of wasting your time wasting my time, perhaps you should be preparing people for what they're up against. You are now authorized to discuss your encounters with the enemy with all personnel who might be drafted into the next expedition."
Root was left speechless and the Centurion wasn't going to wait around for Root to come up with a response.
"You are dismissed, Lieutenant."
He nodded to his guards, who grabbed Root and pulled him out of the office. He just stood there in the passageway for a while. He couldn't stop Tofels, but he was going to have to think about some way to mitigate the disaster that was about to unfold. The lives of everyone onboard depended on it.