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At All Costs: Chapter Twenty Two

       Last updated: Thursday, October 6, 2005 20:51 EDT



    "All right," Admiral Marquette said. "What do we actually know?"

    "We're still getting the details, Sir," Rear Admiral Lewis told the Chief of the Naval Staff and Thomas Theisman's immediate uniformed subordinate. "We know there's still a lot to come, but so far, it looks like most of what we don't already have is only going to be variations on the same theme."

    "And those variations are?" Marquette prompted when Lewis paused.

    "I'm sorry, Arnaud," Vice Admiral Trenis said, "but I thought Admiral Theisman was going join us today."

    "And you're wondering why I'm not waiting for him." Marquette smiled thinly. "I'm afraid that's one point about which not even you and Victor have a 'need to know,' Linda. Let's just say something else has come up which requires the attention of the Secretary and certain other members of the Cabinet. And when they get done with that meeting," he added a bit more pointedly, "they're going to want analysis and, if possible, recommendations from us. So, let's get to it, shall we?"

    "Of course, Sir," Trenis said, and nodded to Lewis. "Victor?"

    "Yes, Ma'am."

    Lewis tapped his memo pad to life, glanced at it -- more out of habit than need, Marquette suspected -- and then looked back up at his two superiors.

    "I think probably our initial evaluation of why they hit the targets they hit was on the money," he said. "All five systems have enough population to give them several representatives in the lower house, plus, of course, their senators. If the object is to create political pressure to disperse our forces, that would obviously have been a factor in their thinking, and my people are confident it was.

    "Economically, as I'm sure we're all already aware, the elimination of their industrial bases will have only a minor direct impact on our ability to sustain our war effort. The indirect economic implications are something else, of course, and I expect Secretary Hanriot and Secretary Nesbitt are going to be less than happy dealing with the civilian fallout."

    "How complete was the destruction, Victor?" Marquette asked. "Was it is bad as the initial reports indicated?"

    "Worse, Sir," Lewis said glumly. Marquette arched an eyebrow, and the rear admiral gave an unhappy shrug.

    "Our own raids have been primarily probes for information, Sir -- reconnaissances in force, for all intents and purposes. We've used light units, primarily LACs, and we've settled for picking off individual industrial lobes that we could get to without taking on really heavy forces. And, of course, the Manties don't have anywhere near as many systems to protect as we do. That means the ones they do have to cover are generally picketed much more heavily than anything except our truly critical ones.

    "Harrington's target selection was different. She wasn't after information; she was here to deliver a message. She picked star systems which weren't heavily defended, and she attacked them with much heavier forces. She not only brought along the firepower she needed to destroy all of our defensive units, she also brought along enough she was able to spread out, take her time, and destroy effectively every single orbital platform in each of the systems she hit. Asteroid extraction centers, foundries, power satellites, communications satellites, navigation satellites, construction platforms, freight platforms, warehouses -- all of it, Sir. Gone."

    "And that was part of her 'message,' as you put it?"

    "Yes, Sir. It was a statement of the level of 'scorched earth" policy the Manties are prepared to embrace. It was also a statement that they intend to operate as aggressively as possible within the limitations of their force availability. Please note, for example, that they committed both Invictus-class superdreadnoughts and what appears to be their complete current inventory of Agamemnon-class pod battlecruisers. And they weren't particularly shy about showing us just what the Katanas and those frigging awful missiles of theirs could do, either."

    "In other words, they're prepared to pull out all the stops."

    "Yes, Sir. And they're also prepared to let some of their technical cats out of the bag. They're not trying to maintain operational security, which is an indication of how important they believe their raids to be. This is the first team they're sending in, Admiral. The fact that Harrington is in command of it would be a strong enough indication of that, but the force mix they're employing confirms it, in my opinion."

    "And mine," Marquette agreed. Trenis nodded as well, but then she tapped a forefinger on the conference table.

    "There's another message in what they've done, this far, at least, Arnaud," she said.

    "I'm certain there are quite a few," the chief of staff said dryly. "Which one did you intend to point out?"

    "The casualty figures," she said flatly. "I know we took virtually one hundred percent casualties in our LAC groups in Gaston, Tambourin, Squalus, and Hallman. And our shipboard casualties were almost as bad -- not surprisingly, I suppose, when they destroyed every single ship they managed to bring into range. But in Hera, Harrington herself gave Milligan the option of saving his people's lives. And they didn't kill or even injure a single civilian when they took out the infrastructure in that system, or anywhere else."

    "That was partly because they had the time, Ma'am," Lewis pointed out. "They had complete control of the star systems, and they could afford to give our civilians time to evacuate."

    "Agreed. But Harrington didn't have to let Milligan stand down his forces. And they would have been justified, under accepted interstellar law, in simply giving us 'a reasonable time' to evacuate, which would have been a lot shorter than the time they actually gave us." She shook her head. "No, I think part of it was the Manties' way -- or, at least, Harrington's way -- of telling us that if we show restraint -- whenever we can, at least -- they'll do the same."

    "You may have a point," Marquette said. "Certainly Harrington's record, despite that ridiculous 'murder conviction' the Legislaturalists cooked up after Basilisk, would lead us to expect that out of her. But I think she may also be being a bit subtler than some of our analysts would have expected out of her."


    "Yes. Think about the other side of her 'message' to Milligan. 'Our technical superiority is so great we could kill you anytime we want to, but because we're nice guys, we're not going to today. All you have to do is blow up your own ships and get out of our way.'"

    Marquette's irony was withering, and Trenis frowned.

    "You're seeing it as an attack on our people's confidence and morale."

    "At least in part. Mind you, from what we know of Harrington, I'm sure she was delighted to not to kill anyone she didn't have to. But she apparently also believes in killing as many birds with each stone as she can."

    Trenis nodded silently for a moment, then looked almost diffidently at the chief of staff.

    "May I ask if a Board's going to be convened on Milligan's actions?"

    "I think you can confidently assume one is," Marquette said a bit grimly. "And I'm not at all sure how it's going to come out, but if I had to place a bet, it wouldn't be on a happy outcome. The fact is that Milligan showed good sense in not getting his people killed for nothing. Unfortunately, that psychological warfare element I just mentioned has to be considered as well. I suspect any Board's going to find he acted appropriately . . . and that he's going to be beached anyway, as a sort of object lesson. It's not fair, but we have to consider the morale of the Service as a whole."

    "I agree that we do, Sir," Trenis said after a moment. "On the other hand, we've gone to some lengths to convince our people they won't get shot as an example to others if they get caught in the gears through no fault of their own. And, frankly, that's exactly what happened to Tom Milligan. He couldn't run, he couldn't bring the enemy into his weapons' range, and the force mix we'd assigned him was hopelessly inadequate even to stand off modern Manty LACs, much less SD(P)s. If we hammer him for his actions, then we tell people we expect them to do the same thing Admiral Beach did, and that we'll hammer them if they don't."

    "Um." Marquette pursed his lips, then shrugged. "I said I wasn't sure how it's going to come out, and what you've just said is the main reason I'm not. As for Beach, he wasn't given the same option Harrington gave Milligan, so it's not exactly as if he rejected the opportunity to save his people's lives. And from what we've been able to piece together about his tactics, they were about as good as someone in a position that hopeless could have come up with."

    "I wasn't criticizing him, Sir. As a matter of fact, Everette and I knew one another for almost fifteen T-years. I'm just not sure most of our people would appreciate the difference between the options he and Milligan had, and I don't want to create a situation in which our flag officers and captains start to think we expect them to go down, every beam firing, no matter how hopeless the situation." Trenis' expression was grim. "I lost too many friends, saw too many good ships blown out of space, because their COs knew that was exactly what the Committee expected out of them."



    Marquette considered her thoughtfully. Linda Trenis wasn't simply one of the new Republican Navy's senior admirals. As the head of the Bureau of Planning, she was responsible for the formulation and implementation of doctrine and training standards. As such, the concerns she was expressing fell squarely and correctly within her purview.

    "Very well, Linda. Your concern is noted, and I'll make certain it's taken into consideration whenever the Board on Hera is impaneled. For what it's worth, I agree that the points you've raised are entirely valid. The problem's going to be exactly where we balance them against the need to maintain the most aggressive mental and psychological stance we can."

    Trenis nodded, and Marquette turned back to Victor Lewis.

    "As you just pointed out, Victor, they did show us their best where their combat hardware is concerned. What did we learn in the process?"

    "Not as much as I'd have liked, Sir," Lewis said frankly. "Especially not given the price we paid for the info we did get. There are a few things we know now that we didn't know then, though.

    "The one drawback to Milligan's acceptance of Harrington's terms, from our perspective over at Operational Research, is that her SD(P)s were never forced to fire. As such, we weren't able to get any sort of feel for how the Invictuses' armaments may vary from their Medusa/Harrington ships. The one thing that does stand out from the visual scans some of our recon platforms got and transmitted down to the planet before Harrington wiped them out is that the reports that the Invictus mounts no broadside missile tubes appears to be accurate. We're not certain why. We've had to make the same decision primarily because our missiles are so damned big, compared to theirs, that we really can't afford the mass penalty for launchers big enough to handle them in ships already designed to deploy pods. All the indications from captured hardware and what we've gotten from Erewhon are that the Manties don't suffer from that particular problem, or not, at least, to anything like the same degree, so there's obviously a different basis for the design philosophy.

    "In the case of Gaston, we got a lot of sensor information on the Grayson Katanas. I'm having all of it sent directly to Admiral Foraker at Bolthole for her teams' consideration, although my initial take on it is that most of it indicates the Katana is built around more of that damned Manticoran miniaturization tech we can't match yet. Certainly, they're very small units, with extremely high acceleration rates. They appear to have all the Shrike's defensive capabilities, and whatever the hell they call that new missile of theirs. On the other hand, they never fired a shot in energy range, so we're not sure what they carry there. Even bearing in mind that we're talking about a Manty-derived design, there can't be a lot of room for the kind of energy armament the Shrike hauls around with it.

    "The real bad news seems to be those missiles. They obviously can't have the sort of range our Cimeterres' missiles do, but they're incredibly fast. At the very minimum, we're going to have to completely overhaul our missile defense software to deal with their speed and maneuverability, and their sensor and tracking ability appear to have significantly improved, as well. The fact that the Manties obviously know about the Triple Ripple, and have adapted their tactics to defeat it, further complicates the situation. Frankly, at least until the next-generation LACs start coming out of Bolthole, I don't think our LACs are going to be able to encounter Manty units -- or, at least, Katanas -- with any realistic hope of victory."

    "My initial feeling was that Victor was being unduly pessimistic, Sir," Trenis put in. "Having had a better look at the raw data, though, I no longer think that. My own feeling, at this time, is that we need to restrict the Cimeterres essentially to the anti-missile role. If they have to mix it up with a Manty or Grayson LACs, they're really going to need to do it from within our own starships' engagement envelope. They're going to need the support that badly."

    "Wonderful," Marquette muttered sourly. Then he shrugged. "On the other hand, we never did see the Cimeterre as anything except a way to blunt Manty LAC attacks. Certainly they've been useful in other roles, but no one on our side is likely to confuse them with a main combatant. Actually, I'm more interested in what we know about their Agamemnons."

    "First of all, Sir, they're big," Lewis said. "Our best estimate from Admiral Beach's tactical take is that they're somewhere around one-point-seven to one-point-eight megatons. That makes them about twice the size of their previous battlecruiser classes.

    "Secondly, they don't appear to deploy the same number of pods per salvo as we've seen out of their SD(P)s. Manty pods are damnably hard sensor targets, but it looks like they were only rolling four pods at a time. However --" he looked up and met Marquette's eyes "-- the pods they were rolling apparently carried fourteen missiles each."


    "That's correct, Sir. So their four-pod salvos were effectively rolling almost as many missiles as their SD(P)s' six-pod salvos."

    "How in God's name did they cram that many missiles into a single pod?" Marquette demanded.

    "I know I'm in charge of NavInt, Sir, but that's a question I just can't answer. Not yet. We do know they've gone to a fusion plant, instead of capacitors, in their current-generation MDMs. All indications, however, were that they were sticking with about the same number of birds per pod and simply reducing the size of each pod, to get more combat endurance rather than greater salvo density. That doesn't seem to be what they've done here, though, and so far, we don't have a clue how you could possibly stuff that many missiles -- even if they are fusion-powered -- into battlecruiser-sized pods. Some of my people are suggesting that we must be looking at an entirely new missile, but if we are, they managed to keep its development completely black. Which, unfortunately, wouldn't exactly be a first. Say what you will about the Manties, they're clearly aware of the importance of their tech advantage, and they're very good at maintaining security on their R&D programs."

    "Fourteen birds," Marquette muttered, shaking his head. "Jesus. If they do start packing their SD(P)s' pods that full, proportionately, we're going to be in even more trouble in a long-range duel."

    "Agreed," Trenis said. "On the other hand, they appear to have concluded that sixty-missile salvos are about the max for their fire control. For the moment, at least."

    "Sure," Marquette snorted. "Until they get around to upgrading it!"

    He frowned down at the tabletop, considering what he'd been told so far, then inhaled deeply.

    "All right. Whatever else we may think about Admiral Beach's tactics, or the casualties he suffered, we're damned lucky we got all the tactical info that we did. And we wouldn't have, if he'd declined to fight. Another point," he looked up at Trenis, "to be considered when the Board sits on Milligan's actions.

    "I can tell from what you've already said," he returned his attention to Lewis, "that Admiral Theisman and I are going to want to sit down and spend some time with your detailed, written report. And, as you've already observed, it's imperative we get all of this information to Admiral Foraker as soon as possible.

    "However, I want you personally, Victor, to concentrate on something else."


    "There's going to be hell to pay in Congress when news of this is confirmed. People are going to be screaming for additional protection for their constituents, and it's going to be damned hard to tell them no. By the same token, if we're looking at an increased technological inferiority, it's going to be more imperative than ever that we keep our combat power concentrated. I can't begin to predict how that's all going to play out -- politics, thank God, aren't part of my turf! But I do know, from the brief conversations I've had so far with the Secretary, that he's going to want some sort of prediction of where they're likely to do this to us next."

    "Sir," Lewis said, his expression troubled, "I don't see any way to do that. There are literally dozens of places they could hit us the way they did here. We've got maybe twenty-five or thirty first-tier systems, and that many again secondary or tertiary systems. Without completely dispersing our fleet strength, we can't begin to cover that broad an area against attacks in the strength these demonstrated. And I'm afraid tea leaf-readers have at least as good a chance as my analysts do of predicting which of them we need to cover. For that matter, if they scout aggressively enough, they'll be able to tell where we've beefed up the defenses and simply go someplace else. What they did with their stealthed destroyers and FTL arrays this time around is proof enough of that."

    "I assure you, I'm already painfully aware of the points you just raised," Marquette said grimly. "I'm also aware that I'm asking you to do something which is quite possibly impossible. I don't have any choice but to ask you, however, and you don't have any choice but to figure out how to do it anyway. There has to be some sort of underlying pattern to their target selection. I can't believe someone like Harrington is just reaching into a hat and pulling out names at random. For that matter, the spacing on this cluster of raids demonstrates she isn't. So try to get inside her head. Run it through the computers, kick it around, try to get some sort of feel for what kind of tendencies or inclinations may be pushing her choices."

    "We can do that, Sir -- run it through the computers and kick it around, I mean. Whether or not we can get 'inside her head' is something else entirely. And, Sir, I'm afraid that even if that's possible, we're going to need a bigger sample of her target selections before any pattern begins to suggest itself. In other words, I don't think I'll be able to give you any sort of prediction until after she's hit us again, possibly more than once."

    "Understood," Marquette said in a heavy voice. "Do your best. No one's going to expect miracles out of you, but we need your very best on it. If we can guess right, even once, and smack her with heavier forces than she anticipates -- maybe even mousetrap one of her raiding forces -- we may be able to make them reconsider this entire strategy."

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