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A Rising Thunder: Snippet One
Last updated: Sunday, May 29, 2011 13:03 EDT
March, 1922 Post Diaspora
"Trust me, the hole would've been a hell of a lot deeper!"
--- Ensign Helen Zilwicki, Royal Manticoran Navy
"Get your goddamned ships the hell out of my space!"
The burly, dark-haired man on Commander Pang Yau-pau's com was red-faced and snarling, and Pang took as firm a grip as he could on his own temper.
"I'm afraid that's not possible, Commodore Chalker," he replied as courteously as the circumstances permitted. "My orders are to protect Manticoran vessels passing through this terminus on their way home to Manticoran space."
"I don't give a damn about your 'orders,' Commander!" Commodore Jeremy Chalker spat back. His ship and the other five destroyers keeping station upon it were 2.4 million kilometers --- eight light-seconds --- from Pang's cruiser, and one might have thought it would be difficult to maintain a properly infuriated conversation over such a distance, especially with the delays light-speed transmissions built into its exchanges. Chalker seemed able to manage it quite handily, however. "You're in violation of my star system's sovereignty, you've evicted Solarian Astro Control personnel from their duty stations, and I want your ass gone!"
"Sir, it's not my intention to violate anyone's sovereignty," Pang replied, choosing to let the rather thornier question of the Solly traffic controllers lie. "My sole interest at this time is the protection of the Star Empire's merchant vessels."
Sixteen more seconds ticked past, and then ---
"Shut your mouth, return control of this terminus to the personnel whose control stations you've illegally seized, and turn your ass around now, or I will by God open fire on the next fucking Manty freighter I see!"
Pang Yau-pau's normally mild brown eyes hardened, and he inhaled deeply.
"Skipper," a quiet voice said.
The single word couldn't have been more respectful, yet it was edged with warning, and Pang hit the mute button and glanced at the smaller screen deployed from the base of his command chair. Lieutenant Commander Myra Sadowski, his executive officer looked back at him from it.
"I know he's a pain in the ass," she continued in that same quiet voice, "but we're supposed to do this without making any more waves than we have to. If you hand this guy his head the way you want to --- the way he deserves, for that matter --- I think it would probably come under the heading of at least a ripple or two."
Myra, Pang reflected, had a point. There was, however, a time and a place for everything. For that matter, the Admiralty hadn't sent Pang and HMS Onyx to the Nolan Terminus to let someone like Jeremy Chalker make that sort of threat.
No, they didn't, another corner of the commander's brain told him. At the same time, I don't suppose it's too hard to understand why he's so pissed off. Not that it makes me like him any better.
At the moment, Onyx, her sister ship Smilodon, the Roland-class destroyer Tornado and the much older destroyer Othello were over six hundred and fifty light-years from the Manticore Binary System and barely two hundred light-years from the Sol System. It was not a particularly huge force to have wandering around so deep in increasingly hostile territory, as Pang was only too well aware. In fact, Nolan was a protectorate system of the Solarian League, and Chalker was an SLN officer, the senior Frontier Fleet officer present. He looked old for his rank, which suggested a certain lack of familial connections within the SLN, although he must have at least some influence to have ended up with the Nolan command. The system's proximity to the Nolan Terminus of the Nolan-Katharina Hyper Bridge was what had brought it to the Office of Frontier Security's attention a hundred-odd T-years ago, and the local OFS and Frontier Fleet officers had been raking off a comfortable percentage of the terminus user fees ever since. Judging from the reaction of the SLN captain who'd commanded the OFS-installed terminus traffic control staff when Pang ordered him to turn his control stations over to Manticoran personnel, another chunk of those fees had probably been finding its way into his pockets, as well. Precious little of that revenue had ended up in Nolan itself, at any rate.
Well, at least this time we can be pretty confident we're not hurting some innocent third-party star system's revenue stream, he thought. And it's not like we're planning to keep the terminus . . . just now, anyway. We'll give it back to them when I'm sure we've gotten all our ships safely through it. And if someone like Chalker takes one in the bank account in the meantime, I'm sure I'll be able to live with my regret somehow.
Of course, Pang never doubted that the rest of theSolarian League Navy was going to be just as infuriated as Chalker by Manticore's "arrogance" in seizing control of Solarian-claimed termini even temporarily. What was going to happen when Lacoön Two kicked in hardly bore thinking upon, although anyone who really thought not executing Lacoön Two was going to make one bit of difference to the Sollies was probably smoking things he shouldn't.
"I'm not the one making the waves," he told Sadowski out loud, then glanced across Onyx's command deck at Lieutenant Commander Jack Frazier, his tactical officer.
"I hope we're not going to have any business for you, Guns," he said. "If we do, I want to hold the damage to a minimum."
"You're thinking in terms of something more like what Admiral Gold Peak did at New Tuscany than what she did at Spindle, Sir?"
"Exactly." Pang smiled thinly. "Do you have Chalker's flagship IDed?"
"Yes, Sir." Frazier nodded with an answering smile. "I do. By the strangest coincidence, I've just this minute discovered that I've got her IDed, dialed in, and locked up, as a matter of fact."
Pang paused a moment longer, taking an additional few seconds to make sure he had his own temper under control, then un-muted his audio pickup.
"Commodore Chalker," he said in a hard, flat voice quite different from the courteous one he'd employed so far, "allow me to point out two things to you. First, this terminus is, in fact, not in Nolan's territorial space. Unless my astrogation is badly off, it's five light-hours from Nolan, which puts it just a bit outside the twelve-minute limit. The Solarian League's claim to its possession rests solely on the SLN's supposed power to control the space about it. And, second, in regard to that supposed power, I respectfully suggest you consider the actual balance of force which obtains at this moment. Based on that balance, I submit that it would be unwise to issue such threats against Manticoran shipping . . . and even less wise to carry them out."
"Well piss on you, Commander! You and the rest of your 'Star Empire' may think you can throw your weight around any way you like, but there's a cold dawn coming, and it's going to get here sooner than you think!"
"I have my orders, Commodore," Pang responded in that same flat voice, "and I don't intend to debate the question of who's responsible for the current state of tension between the Star Empire and the Solarian League. I fully intend to return control of this terminus to the League --- and, obviously, to restore your personnel to their stations --- as soon as I've satisfied myself, as my orders require, that all Manticoran merchant vessels in this vicinity have been given the opportunity to return to Manticoran space through it. I regret" --- neither his tone nor his expression was, in fact, particularly regretful --- "any inconvenience this may cause for you or any other Solarian personnel or citizens. I do, however, intend to carry out all of my orders, and one of those orders is to use whatever level of force is necessary to protect Manticoran merchant shipping anywhere. And 'anywhere,' Commodore Chalker, includes Solarian space. So if you intend to fire on Manticoran freighters, why don't you just start with the ones right here under my protection? Go ahead -- be my guest. But before you do, Admiral, I suggest you recall the Royal Navy's position where the protection of merchant shipping is concerned."
He sat waiting, watching his com for the sixteen seconds his words took to reach Chalker and for the signal to come back. Precisely on schedule, Chalker's face turned even darker.
"And what the fuck does that mean?" the Solarian snarled.
"It means my tactical officer has your flagship identified," Pang said, and his smile was a razor.
For another sixteen seconds, Chalker glared out of Pang's display. Then, abruptly, his facial muscles went absolutely rigid, as if some magic wand had turned his face to stone. He stayed that way for several seconds, then shook himself.
"Are you threatening me?" he demanded incredulously.
"Yes," Pang said simply. "I am."
Chalker simply stared at him, and Pang wondered what else the other man could have expected to happen.
"You think you can come waltzing into Solarian space and threaten Solarian citizens? Tell a Solarian warship you'll open fire on it?" Chalker said sixteen seconds later.
"It's not my wish to threaten anyone, Admiral. It is my intention to carry out my orders and to deal with any threat to the merchant shipping for which I'm responsible, and you've just announced your intention to fire on unarmed merchant vessels. Should you do so, I will fire on you, and I suggest you recall what happened to Admiral Byng at New Tuscany. If you actually intend to attack after doing that, go ahead and let's get it over with. Otherwise, Sir, I have rather more important matters which require my attention. Good day."
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Comments from the Peanut Gallery:
Unless my astrogation is badly off, it's five light-hours from Nolan, which puts it just a bit outside the twelve-minute limit. The 'twelve-hour limit' was established back in The Short Victorious War. I always envisioned it as being a radius, but it was refined as a diameter in one of the last couple of books.
"Are you threatening me?" he demanded incredulously. Personally, I'd have loved to have had Pang reply "I'm promising you." Or, prehaps, "I'm simply informing you of where our targeting queue starts."
"It's not my wish to threaten anyone, Admiral." Did Chalker get a promotion that we didn't otherwise hear about before the end of that conversation?