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Chain of Command: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 14:01 EDT



26 December 2133 (one hour later) (fifth day in K’tok orbit)

    The forty-eight hours following the uBakai attack had been filled with frantic work, first trying to recover survivors from the two disabled destroyers, then making the surviving ships fully operational, and finally trying to find answers.

    The big questions were simple. What was wrong with their missiles? How had the uBakai reached out and killed six of their starships? How could they execute their mission with the forces and resources they had left? The smaller, softer question, the one hardly anyone asked out loud, was much more complicated: what were they doing here?

    Sam had no answers to any of those questions, even after the briefing from Atwater-Jones. If he would find them anywhere, he thought it would be in the boat and from the crew, not sitting in solitude in his cabin trying to think deep thoughts.

    Third Principle of Naval Leadership: Know your subordinates and look out for their welfare.

    He was about to set out on a tour through the boat, just to show his face and talk to some of the crew on duty, when his comlink vibrated.

    “Captain, here.”

    Sir? It’s Lieutenant Filipenko. I think we may have something you should see.

    “Something good, I hope. Where are you?”

    Port missile room, sir, and yes, it’s good.

    Ten minutes later Sam pulled himself through the hatch to the missile room and Lieutenant Filipenko held out her hand to him with two small, shiny metal pieces in it. Sam took them and examined them closely. They appeared to be a single light-weight metal part broken in half, and the broken area on each half was dramatically deformed, almost as if they had melted, but the break was sharp, jagged in places. Whatever had done this had done it violently. He looked up and saw Chief Joyce Menzies by her workbench, watching him with interest. The bench had a partially disassembled missile clamped to its work area.

    “Is this your work, Chief?”

    “All of us, sir,” she said and glanced at Filipenko. “Me and the lieutenant here, and two of my missile monkeys: Warwick and Guerrero. And Machinist First Hasbrow back in engineering, who set up the horizontal compression machine. Oh, and Ensign Robinette ran the stress numbers for us.”

    “Stress numbers, huh? Okay, what am I looking at here?”

    “Sir, that’s why our de crisse missiles are all broke-dick-no-workee.”

    Filipenko took over. “That is the angular brace for one of the rod aiming sub-assemblies out of that Block Four Fire Lance over on the workbench, sir. It’s why when our missiles detonated the laser beams went all over the place instead of at the target. We’ve got the diagrams up on a workstation over there.”

    Sam glanced over and even from two yards away could see a diagram cluttered with parts and notations.

    “Just tell me what it means.”

    “BuOrd changed the layout of the rod aiming assembly not long before we shipped out,” Filipenko said, “and they re-fitted all our missiles. There were problems in the tests and this was supposed to fix them.”

    “Let me guess: it didn’t.”

    “It might have, sir, but it made a different one. They moved the angle of these braces and apparently forgot they were only rated to take the stress of the acceleration in their original position, which was perpendicular to the acceleration vector when the missile was fired. They moved the brace about twenty-five degrees off-angle and so when it goes through the firing acceleration, it sheers in half. Then the rods just sort of rattle around up there when the laser pointer tries to align them.”

    Sam looked at the metal parts again, looked at the distortion around the break lines, how the metal had changed color…

    “You broke this under pressure in the machine shop? How much force does this part have to take, anyway?”

    “A little over twenty thousand gees, sir,” Menzies answered.

    “Twenty thousand? Are you serious?”

    Menzies shrugged. “Zero to twenty-one thousand kilometers an hour in less than a tenth of a second–the math’s pretty simple, sir.”#8221;

    The part seemed warmer somehow, just from Sam thinking about that sort of acceleration force.

    “Okay, what can you do about it?”

    Filipenko looked at Menzies and the chief answered. “We’re still looking over these assembly diagrams and the earlier test results. See, we can’t just back-build everything the way it was before, ’cause the tests say they weren’t hitting right most of the time.”

    “Re-machine the part to take the strain?” Sam asked.

    “Maybe we can manage that, sir. Engineering’s got a pretty good precision-tolerance fabricator. The problem might be weight and space. There are thirty of these de câlice de crisse things in each warhead. Heavier part might be a little bigger, and that could be tricky. A little more weight could mean it’s going to be slower coming out of the pipe, shave maybe a couple hundred klicks an hour off its launch velocity.” She shrugged again.

    “I don’t care. Give me missiles that kill, Menzies. If we have to get in closer to launch them, we’ll figure out a way to do it.”

    Sam handed the broken pieces back to Filipenko. “Filipenko, Menzies, well done. Let’s get the word out to the rest of the squadron so we can all work on a solution, but my money’s still on you guys coming up with the fix we’ll use. You go ahead and set up the tight beam and do the honors.”

    “Yes, sir,” she said, and it was the first time he could remember her saying that with enthusiasm and some pride.

    Now that was some good news, and Sam felt his mood lift a little as he headed back forward to officer’s country. One problem down and it wasn’t much past breakfast. Maybe he could line his other problems up and knock them over in just as orderly a fashion.



    Vice-Captain Takaar Nuvaash, Speaker for the Enemy, looked at the admiral floating behind the workstation, the admiral he knew to be complicit in the murder of a planetary governor and part of a conspiracy which had launched a war which had already cost hundreds of lives, perhaps thousands when the casualties from the ground combat and the attack at Bronstein’s World were added in.

    “Nuvaash, how badly did we damage the enemy?” Admiral e-Lapeela demanded.

    Nuvaash closed his eyes for a moment to suppress his warring emotions and order his thoughts.

    “Less than we anticipated, but we still materially reduced the capabilities of the enemy squadron. It also revealed a critical weakness: the missiles fired by the Human destroyers failed to hit, without exception, even though several of them evaded our point defense weapons and detonated.”

    It was a very good thing–Nuvaash thought but did not say–that they failed to accurately target the uBakai ships. The position of the distant picket destroyers guaranteed that two of them had excellent shots at the fleet as it overshot K’Tok’s north pole, and a low orbit destroyer had also managed to launch its missiles well before Nuvaash would have thought possible. The destroyers’ missiles had proven unexpectedly difficult to destroy.

    “That last destroyer we killed seriously damaged our ship and two others,” the admiral said. “Their missiles did not do that. Their point defense lasers did. Why did we not know they had this lethal close-in offensive capability?”

    He seemed more distant than he had in the past, as if preoccupied with a different problem.

    “The destroyer did not display any new or unknown capability,” Nuvaash said. “Its captain simply used its close defense weapons in a novel manner, as offensive weapons. None of our simulations predicted this because the tactic was suicidal, as was demonstrated by the destruction of the craft.”

    That much was true, but he looked away from the admiral. He should have anticipated something like this.

    “Humans do not put the same value on life as we do,” the admiral said, “not even their own. A Speaker for the Enemy should understand this.”

    “The admiral is correct.”

    e-Lapeela gestured dismissively and for a moment returned his attention to his desktop.

    The truth was, Nuvaash had never noticed Humans to be any less attached to life than were Varoki. But what in a Varoki would be seen as an act of courage and self-sacrifice was, in a Human, always judged differently by e-Lapeela and others like him, including the new governor of K’tok.

    Nuvaash had spent many months with Human staffs when serving on combined fleet exercises. Humans displayed a barely contained nervous energy, like a powerful caged animal, which he had never seen completely unleashed except perhaps in some of their appallingly violent athletic contests. In contrast they possessed enormous capacity for beauty, surrounded themselves with it to the point that it became invisible to them. Nuvaash remembered riding in the lift of a tall office building on Earth and in the lift hearing the most hauntingly beautiful music he could ever remember, music so sweet and melancholy it had nearly reduced him to tears, while the Humans ignored it, or in some cases hummed along. Most of them could whistle or sing, could do so beautifully, and simply took the gift for granted. Didn’t they see what they had?

    Nuvaash partly understood e-Lapeela’s aversion to Humans, at least the part based on fear and envy. He felt its tug as well, more strongly of late, But if he let himself become slave to those base instincts, what was to become of him?

    &##8220;How can a close defense laser do the sort of damage we experienced?” the admiral said, pulling Nuvaash’s thoughts back to the cruiser and the present.

    “It was designed in response to the new armored nose caps we began deploying on missiles two years ago, Admiral. It has a diameter of ten meters and a virtual focal array of twenty, which is why the mounts are so clearly visible on the exterior of their destroyers. Some of their cruisers have been refitted with them as well. They emit in the ultra-violet part of the spectrum and the combination of short wavelength and very large focal array gives them considerable power at range.



    “How serious was the damage?”

    “Cruiser Four-Two-Eight was a total loss, of course, when it exited jump space into a planetoid. A fire lance hit disabled the jump drive of Four-Two-Nine and the captain jettisoned the entire module to avoid contamination. It can maneuver but will use most of its reaction mass to decelerate and return to our fleet rendezvous. It will arrive in twelve days. Five-Two-Two has only intermittent power, has lost its coil gun and most of its sensor array, and is not immediately repairable. Five-Oh-One is lightly damaged and will be operational as soon as we are.”

    So–discounting Cruiser Four-Two-Nine, which could not jump and so could not join the other ships in their next attack maneuver–they had only two operational cruisers left, including the flagship. Two ships to face whatever remained of the Human fleet, which included at least two cruisers and three destroyers at K’tok, two cruisers at Mogo, and seven more destroyers unaccounted for. The First Fleet had had fewer ships destroyed, lost fewer lives, than had the enemy, but the balance of force had changed hardly at all. Nuvaash took a breath to steady his voice before speaking.

    “The new missiles performed well, Admiral.”

    e-Lapeela looked up sharply but Nuvaash met his gaze and after a moment the admiral cocked his head to the side in a shrug.

    “We expected to take out every starship. It worked well in testing but the test sequence, for reasons of secrecy, was limited. No weapon ever seems to perform as well in the field as in the tests. Still, we dealt them a shattering blow: eight ships destroyed versus only one of ours. It may not seem so here, surrounded by casualties and damage, but this was a great victory.”

    “But to what end?” Nuvaash said. “They still hold K’tok.”

    “To what end? I told you others waited in the shadows to join us. Victories steel their courage, quicken their blood, broaden their vision. Because of this victory–and that is exactly how it will be perceived, regardless of how much damage we sustained–others will join us. First a trickle, but like water cutting a sand bar, a trickle widens the passage and more water follows.

    “And I have just received word by jump courier. The government has released the cruiser division on Akaampta from Cottohazz duty to my command, and the Home Fleet is readying another squadron to join us. Our enterprise prospers.R#8221;

    “Not of the ground, I am afraid,” Nuvaash said. “We are stalemated. Human orbital bombardment has become less effective both in terms of volume and accuracy, and the Human ground forces have taken casualties which they seem unable to replace immediately. These are both fruits, in my opinion, of our earlier attack. All of our heavy ground force units took severe casualties in the aftermath of the invasion, however, and our three regular mobile cohorts have been rendered ineffective for offensive operations. If we are to resume the ground offensive we must reinforce out ground forces.”

    “Reinforce? How?”

    “We are receiving three transports from home, carrying between them a reinforced ground brigade. I believe we can land part of a lift cavalry squadron by reentry gliders.”

    “Reentry gliders?” the admiral demanded. “While the Humans hold orbital space? That would be suicidal for the transports.”

    “If we used the transports, that would be so. But out cruisers have the ability to carry a limited number of reentry gliders in place of external ordnance modules. The extent to which the detonation of Human nuclear warheads interfered with our sensors during the last attack suggests a way for a ship or two to make a high speed approach and exit, dropping the reinforcements into the atmosphere as we pass.”

    “We?&##8221; the admiral said.

    Nuvaash shifted his position and let his earns fold back slightly in the position of respect.

    “As the attack profile I am outlining is hazardous and untested, I assumed the admiral would lead the first raid in the flagship.”

    e-Lappela leaned back in this chair and smiled. “I am surprised, Nuvaash. You strike me as cautious rather than aggressive, and yet now you recommend another audacious attack.”

    “I recommend nothing, admiral. I only point out the facts as I understand them.”

    And one of the facts he understood now was that the admiral was a murderer. But how many supposedly glorious triumphs throughout history, he wondered, were secretly purchased with murder?



    Sam glided through the hatch to the wardroom and clipped his tether to end of the main table. No other officers were present and so Sam ordered cheese enchiladas for lunch and prepared to eat alone. That was fine; he had a lot of reading to catch up on.

    Second Principle of Naval Leadership: Be technically and tactically proficient.

    He put on viewer glasses and started re-reading TM-01 Deep Space Tactical Principles.

    After five minutes Lieutenant Rice, the boat’s beefy supply officer appeared, drew a bulb of coffee from the dispenser, and clipped his tether next to Sam’s.

    “How’s it going, Moe?” Sam asked, taking off his viewer glasses.

    “Not too good, Cap’n. I mean, we’re in good shape, but the grunts down in the dirt are in trouble. With most of the cruisers gone we’ve only got ground bombardment coverage about a third of the time. The uBakai are starting to close in with mobile troops whenever there’s no one in a firing position. For now they’re okay but that Limey battalion is going to run short of ammunition if things heat up much.”

    “Ammunition? Don’t they have their fabricators with them?”

    “No, sir. The cohort’s fabricator platoon never got down to planet surface. It was going to come down the needle with its gear but was still onboard HMS Furious when the uBakai attack came. That’s the British transport that got nailed.”

    “Aren’t there backup British fabricators in the fleet train?”

    “There were, sir. They were aboard FS Mistral, the French auxiliary vessel we lost.”

    That was a problem, but Sam didn’t see it as insurmountable. He’d spent enough years in the fabricator business to understand their versatility.

    “The other two cohorts down there have their own fabricators, right? There’s nothing the Brits need they can’t fabricate for them.”

    “Not quite, sir. Seems like no one has the software code to load the output specifications for the British munitions into the US or Indian fabricators. The British cohort HQ has the specs in their tactical data base. They just can’t get the other cohort fabricators to accept it. I talked to the task force N-4 and he says they’re trying to get the go-codes from home by jump courier missile, but they’re still negotiating with the fabricator manufacturers.”

    “Who’s that?” Sam asked, but was suddenly reluctant to hear the answer.

    “SubcontininenTech made the Indian fabricators, Dynamic Paradigms made the US ones.”

    Of course, the company he worked for, squabbling over intellectual property while people’s lives were at stake.

    “Okay, keep me apprised, Moe. Any deterioration on the ground, let me know right away.”

    Moe raised his eyebrows slightly in surprise, but nodded. Of course he was surprised. Why would a destroyer captain in orbit be this interested in whether or not fabricators were working on the ground?

    “Remember, I worked for Dynamic Paradigms until I got activated,” Sam explained. “Professional curiosity.”

    It wasn’t the truth, or at least not the entire truth, the important truth, but it satisfied Moe, and for now that was all that mattered. Still, this new wrinkle was one more thing for him to worry about, one more tough call he might have to make fairly soon.

    In his seven years at Dynamic Paradigms, he’d done a variety of jobs, but most of his time was spent in the Product Support Division, making sure installed fabricators worked as advertised. Sometimes all the different interfaces got scrambled, the processor locked up, and you had to just reset everything. Even when power was pulled from the unit, even when there was no available interface, the e-synaptic core of the processor was still alive, still barely powered by waste heat generators, waiting for the master cheat code which would reopen the system and let technicians reprogram it.

    The code was all but unbreakable, a precise series of signals of different intensities, durations, and at different radio frequencies. But a handful of product support supervisors knew the code, and Sam had eventually been one of them. He knew the code which would unlock the Dynamic Paradigms fabricators in the US Marine cohort’s support platoon and let it accept the production instructions for the British munitions.

    The problem was those codes were among the most closely guarded corporate proprietary secrets Dynamic Paradigms had. He had signed more non-disclosure agreements than he could remember. In addition, each code shared with an employee contained one signal sequence which was unique to that employee, so any use of it was immediately traceable. If he revealed that code now he was never going back to his old job, or any other job for any fabricator firm, or any corporate position anywhere that involved access to proprietary information. He would make himself unemployable, permanently, and in a pretty lousy job market to boot.

    But his old company still might come through, do the right thing, and turn over the cheat codes. If not …well, no point in dwelling on that now.

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