"Seize him. He is an agent if our inner enemies. Secure him. Don't let him go," Steiner kept blabbering inconsistently to confused MPs.
The ironclad rule of incompetency was to blame someone else. The foreigners, competitors, envy, you name it. To not loose the grip on the career ladder, one had to exercise a strong self-convincing facility. Whose fault? Absolutely not mine.
Steiner loved to point his fingers at mysterious inner enemies; these hidden existence were crawling around, always ready to undermine his command. They had no names and no faces - until today.
Inwardly, Gromov almost felt honored after realization Steiner counted him between them.
"You came to welcome us personally, Colonel. What a pleasant surprise," he snorted. "Even being out of options when you had failed to slaughter us entirely, what about picking the scapegoat more carefully?"
Steiner just stared wildly. Turning to MPs, he urged them to secure the captain. MPs acted nervously in doubt whether they should obey the superior who appeared on the edge of feinting. Even his speech was hard to understand, resembling a feverish patient.
"What about your code of honor?" Gromov insisted. "Should not you rather close the door and shoot yourself? There is no bright tomorrow after today for you, don't you think?"
With eyes bulging out, Steiner finally reacted.
"What!? Trying to save your hide by blaming me?"
"This is my line, Colonel. This is exactly what you do."
"You... You're just little pe-pesky coward, aren't you, Gromov? A-afraid to ta-take responsibility for your actions?"
"What actions? Humor me, Colonel. But first, ask the people around what is their opinion."
Naturally, the commotion drew attention of the crews, emerging from the landed vessels. When they had learned what happened, they gathered behind Gromov and expressed support for their leader.
The tall middle-aged female pilot with short light hair and green amicable eyes stepped out.
"Look, Colonel. We dont know what is it all about. But you are obviously not in a good shape, so perhaps you should reconsider before you make a grave mistake. To blame Captain Gromov for cowardice is laughable. We all witnessed his bravery from the first hand."
Gromov recognized the familiar voice and gave her a curious look. She smiled and saluted: "Lieutenant Anezka Kurowska, sir. We'd shaken hands before, but I am pretty sure you forgot my name. Stop calling me C3, please."
Under normal circumstances, she would be a pretty and attractive young lady, but now, after her body experienced the burden of prolonged battle, she looked swollen and beaten, with dark maps all over her face.
"This is none of your business, Lieutenant," Steiner interjected the pleasantries abruptly. "I've already informed headquarters and they've fully agreed. Captain Gromov is going to be arrested right now. Rest of you can proceed further to the preparatory room."
Nobody moved. Since they had overheard the communication between Steiner and Gromov, they knew on what The Colonel based his charges. Even Lieutenant Kurowska refuted only Steiner's claim related to cowardice; Gromov's disobedience was a different matter.
In the same time, they were fully aware why Gromov disobeyed the order. None of them was eager to die on Colonel's whim either, especially under these conditions.
From their point of view, Gromov's decision was correct and Colonel just should shut up, or at least overlook the situation.
Blissfully ignorant, they did not realize how seriously was Steiner's career jeopardized at the moment. Not only he exerted blatant incompetency (this was rather a minor issue), but he had given a personal guarantee to the minister there would be no problems during the Space Forces' summit.
Taken from Colonel's perspective, one thing was crystal clear. He needed to find a proper scapegoat.


About the author

Pavel Morava

Bio: Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.

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