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The Shadow of Saganami: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Friday, February 27, 2004 23:42 EST



    “Bogey Three is altering course, Captain! She’s coming around… another twelve degrees to port and climbing above us. Acceleration is increasing, too. Call it five-point-niner-eight KPS squared.”

    “Acknowledged.” Helen Zilwicki gazed down at the repeater plot deployed from the pedestal of the captain’s command chair at the center of Hexapuma’s auxiliary bridge. The display was smaller than the master plot at Tactical, but she could manipulate it as she chose, without disturbing the main plot. Now she tapped a command sequence into the keypad on the arm of her chair, and the repeater obediently recentered its display on the icon of Bogey Three.

    The Havenite destroyer was indeed sweeping further out to port, and another keypadded command projected her new vector. She was obviously trying to skirt Hexapuma’s missile envelope in order to get at the convoy beyond while her consorts maneuvered together to hold the Manticoran ship’s attention. And she was accelerating at over six hundred gravities. Even with the newest generation of Havenite inertial compensators, that meant she was pulling over ninety percent of theoretical max. Assuming her maintenance people knew their jobs, she could risk cutting her safety margin that way, but it was a fair indication of how much importance the Peep force’s commander attached to hitting the convoy.

    “Status of Bogey One?” she demanded crisply.

    “Maintaining profile at two-niner-six KPS squared, Captain,” Paulo d’Arezzo replied from Tactical, his Sphinx accent equally crisp. “Her wedge is still fluctuating,” he added.

    “Acknowledged,” Helen said again. She still didn’t much care for d’Arezzo, and the fact that his voice was exactly the sort of musical bass that went with his Preston of the Spaceways face didn’t help. But she had to admit Aikawa’s friend had been right about the fair-haired midshipman’s competence. She would have been happier to have him working the electronics warfare station, since he seemed to have some sort of arcane arrangement with the Demon Murphy where the ship’s EW systems were concerned. The additional hours he’d been putting in since he’d been tapped as Lieutenant Bagwell’s understudy were only refining what was obviously a powerful native talent.

    And, she reflected, at least the time he’s been spending with Bagwell is keeping him out of my hair in Snotty Row.

    The thought was unfair, and she knew it, but knowing didn’t change the way she felt. Or make the standoffish d’Arezzo any more convivial as a companion. Still, she would dearly have loved to be able to put his skills to work handling Hexapuma’s electronic warfare suite for this engagement. But Lieutenant Hearns had assigned Aikawa to EW, with Ragnhild (not Leo Stottmeister, of course) at Engineering. Intellectually, Helen understood why the acting OCTO was deliberately rotating their assignments for the simulations, but she didn’t like the way it left her feeling subtly off-balance.

    “Helm, come to zero-four-one by two-seven-five,” she said. “Roll ship fifteen degrees to port, and increase acceleration to six KPS squared.”

    That was considerably higher than the “eighty percent of maximum power” The Book called for under normal circumstances, but it still left an almost ten percent reserve against compensator failure.

    “Coming to zero-four-one by two-seven-five, roll one-five degrees port, and increase to six KPS squared, aye, Ma’am,” Senior Chief Waltham replied, and the cruiser altered course smoothly under his practiced touch.

    “Aikawa, I want to knock back Bogey Three’s sensors -- especially for her missile defense,” Helen said. “Suggestions?”

    “Recommend an immediate salvo of Dazzlers,” Aikawa said promptly. “Then fire a second salvo to precede the attack birds by, say, fifteen seconds. That should seriously degrade their sensor capabilities. Then seed half a dozen Dragon’s Teeth into the broadside itself.”

    “I like it,” Helen said with a wicked smile. Dazzlers were powerful jammer warheads which would tear holes in the destroyer’s sensors but leave the targeting systems in Hexapuma’s missiles unaffected. Unlike the destroyer, they would know exactly what pattern the Dazzlers had been set for, and could be adjusted to “see” through the erratic windows the electronic warfare birds’ programming provided. And if the destroyer’s battered electronic eyes could see past the jamming at all, the Dragon’s Teeth, each loaded with enough false emitters to appear as an entire salvo of attacking missiles, ought to do a pretty fair job of completely swamping their victim’s tracking capability.

    “Make it so, Tactical,” she instructed d’Arezzo. “And set up a double broadside. I want to finish this tin can and get back to the main event.”

    “Aye, aye, Ma’am. Accepting EW download now. The birds are receipting. Ready to launch in another… twenty-seven seconds.”

    Helen nodded. It took a little longer to set up for a double broadside, using the off-bore launch capability the RMN had developed, but it would permit her to put almost forty missiles on the destroyer. That would undoubtedly be overkill, assuming Aikawa’s EW suggestion worked half as well as she expected it to. Still, it was better to finish the target off -- or at least cripple it thoroughly -- in a single exchange so she could get back to the rest of the Peep attack force.

    Hexapuma was individually bigger and more powerful than any of the attackers, and she’d also taken delivery of the new Mark 16 MDM. Nothing smaller (or older) than a Saganami-C-class ship would ever be able to handle them, but the Saganami-Cs had been designed around the new, larger Mark 9-c tubes. Even with the massive reduction in manpower represented by Hexapuma’s smaller crew, BuShips had been able to cram only twenty of them into each broadside, but the Mk 16 carried twin drives. That gave Hexapuma a powered missile envelope from rest of almost thirty million kilometers, which her present opponents couldn’t possibly match.

    But if she outclassed any of them enormously on a one-for-one basis, she was also outnumbered by five-to-one, and the op force commander had timed her ambush well. She’d been lying doggo in the poor long-range sensor conditions which were typical in hyper, with her ships’ impeller wedges down, and caught Hexapuma and her convoy in hyper-space, transitioning between grav waves under impeller. And she’d waited until the last possible moment before bringing her nodes up, which had put her almost into her own missile range of Hexapuma before the Manticoran ship even saw her. If she’d been able to wait even fifteen minutes longer, Hexapuma would have been well inside that range, and probably dead meat, before she knew the enemy was there. Unfortunately for the Peep, the geometry hadn’t been quite perfect. She’d had to power up when she did, or the convoy’s vector would have prevented her from intercepting at all.

    Still, she’d almost pulled it off. In fact, it was sheer good luck that the simulation’s computers had decided Hexapuma’s initial broadside had gotten a critical piece of her heavy cruiser flagship’s impeller drive. The damaged ship -- one of the obsolete Sword-class ships, from her emissions signature -- was still boring in, but slowly. The fluctuating impeller wedge d’Arezzo had spotted earlier was like an old wet-navy oil slick, trailing like blood as proof of the cruiser’s laming wound. That left only the four destroyers, which were about to become three destroyers.

    Helen’s new heading turned Hexapuma almost directly away from the damaged Havenite flagship as she maneuvered against the overeager destroyer trying to swing around her. Apparently whoever was in command over there hadn’t read the latest briefing on Manticoran missile ranges. The destroyer’s bid to stay out of Hexapuma’s envelope was going to come up short -- way short, like over twelve million kilometers short. In fact, it would have come up a couple of million klicks short even against the Mark 13 missiles of one of the RMN’s older heavy cruisers. That was still far enough out to degrade Hexapuma’s accuracy -- fire control was still trying to catch up with the extended ranges of the new missiles -- but not badly enough to keep a forty-missile double broadside from blowing her out of space. Best of all, nothing on the Peeps’ side had the range to engage Hexapuma in reply. The Peeps had multi-drive missiles of their own, but they hadn’t managed to engineer that capability down into something a heavy cruiser mounted. Their capital ships and battlecruisers could match or exceed anything even Hexapuma’s new birds could do, but their cruisers still had barely a quarter of her extended reach.

    Hexapuma completed her turn and raced towards the destroyer.

    “Dazzler launch… now,” d’Arezzo announced, and red lights flickered to green on his panel as the jammers streaked away. D’Arezzo watched a time display ticking downward on his panel for several seconds, then said, “Second Dazzler launch in five… four… three… two… one… now! Attack broadside launching in fifteen seconds.”

    Helen flipped her repeater plot back to a smaller scale, one that let her observe all the enemy units, including the crippled flagship. The tiny color-coded icons representing the staggered flights of Dazzlers moved slowly, even at their incredible acceleration, on such a tiny display, and she glanced at the flagship again. Once she’d dealt with the leading destroyer, she’d swing back to take the other three still coming in from the other side. And once all four of them had been swatted, she could deal with the Sword-class at her leisure.

    All neat and tidy, she told herself. Even that snoot-in-the-air prick d’Arezzo’s done a bang-up job this time.

    Even as she thought the last sentence, she scolded herself for it. D’Arezzo obviously continued to prefer his own company to that of anyone else, but he seemed to possess enough ability and competence to offset it.

    “Attack broadside launch now!” d’Arezzo announced, and the repeater plot was suddenly speckled with dozens of outgoing missile icons. Helen watched them with satisfaction. In another couple of minutes --

    “Missile launch!” d’Arezzo barked abruptly. “Multiple hostile launches! Captain, Bogey One’s launched at us!”

    Helen’s eyes darted away from the missiles she’d sent roaring towards the enemy destroyer. D’Arezzo was right. The enemy flagship had launched missiles at them, and not just a few birds. There were at least thirty in that incoming salvo, and even as she watched, the “fluctuating” impeller wedge firmed back up. Its acceleration shot upward, peaking at over four hundred and eighty gravities, and it spun on its axis. Nineteen seconds after that, a second massive salvo erupted from it as the spin brought its other broadside to bear.

    And the second salvo had been fired with an even higher initial acceleration. It was already overtaking the first launch, and Helen knew exactly what was about to happen.

    Suckered, goddamn it! she thought. That’s no heavy cruiser -- it’s a frigging battlecruiser pretending to be a heavy cruiser! Just like it was pretending to be damaged so I’d ignore it while I concentrated on swatting destroyers. And those are MDMs. MDMs launched with enough oomph on their first-stage drives to bring them all in as one, huge, time-on-target salvo.

    “Helm, hard skew port! Electronics, I want two November-Charlie decoys -- deploy them to starboard and high! Tactical, redesignate Bogey One as primary target!”

    She heard her voice snapping the orders. They came sharp and clear, almost instantly, despite the consternation and self-reproach boiling through her. But even as she issued them, she knew it was too late.

    At the range at which the enemy had fired, Hexapuma had a hundred and fifty seconds to respond before the incoming laser heads reached attack range and detonated. If she’d had another two minutes, maybe even one, the decoys Helen had ordered deployed -- too damned late, damn it to hell! -- might have had time to suck some of the fire away from their mother ship. As it was, they didn’t.

    Helen watched her plot and swore as the two Peep broadsides merged… and their combined acceleration suddenly leapt upward. That TO over there knew her job, damn it. She had more than enough range to reach her target, so she’d set her birds’ first-stage drives to terminate and their second-stage drives to kick in as soon as her separate broadsides had matched base vectors. They would burn out much more rapidly, but the new settings would get them to Hexapuma even more quickly than d’Arezzo -- and Helen -- had estimated. They’d be coming in faster, as well. And even if she burned out the second stage completely, she’d still have the third. There’d be plenty of time left on their clocks for terminal attack maneuvers.

    And the bastards knew exactly what they were doing when they timed it, too, she thought viciously. We have to cut the downlinks to our attack birds to free up the tracking and datalinks to deal with the damned battlecruiser!

    The offensive missiles would continue to home on the targeted destroyer, but without guidance from Hexapuma’s onboard sensors and computers, the odds of any of them attaining a hard lock went down drastically, especially at such an extended range. Which meant the destroyer was probably going to survive, as well.

    “Third enemy launch!” d’Arezzo announced, as the still-rolling enemy battlecruiser continued to pump missiles towards Hexapuma, and Helen punched the arm of her command chair in frustration. Hexapuma was going to be hurt badly, even if she survived the opening double broadside. With battle damage hammering her capabilities back, those follow-up salvos were going to be deadly.

    D’Arezzo’s counter-missiles zipped out, racing to meet the initial attack. There’d be time for only two defensive launches against it, and Helen bit her lip, watching the midshipman’s fingers dance and fly. He was hunched slightly forward in his bridge chair with totally focused intensity, and she saw the light codes for his initial counter launch blinking from strobing amber to blood-red as the individual counter-missiles’ internal seekers locked onto their designated targets. As each of his birds “saw” its own target, it dropped out of Hexapuma’s shipboard control queue, freeing additional tracking capacity and control downlinks for the counter-missiles in his second-tier launch.

    He was good, she acknowledged. Not quite as good as she or Aikawa were, perhaps. But then, both of them had known before they ever reached the Island that they wanted to be tactical officers, generalists, whereas d’Arezzo’s emphasis had been on the new EW systems. For an electronics snot, he was doing damned well.

    Too bad it wasn’t going to be well enough.

    Peep missiles didn’t carry as much ECM as Manticoran. Despite all the improvements in their technology since the last war, Haven was still playing catch-up in a lot of areas. But the ECM they did have was much better than it once had been, and d’Arezzo’s plot jumped in the electronic equivalent of a gibbering fit as a complex orchestration of countermeasure emitters activated at the last possible moment.

    Two-thirds of d’Arezzo’s counter-missiles lost lock as the blizzard of jamming lashed at them. Again, it was all a matter of timing. If they’d had more time, the defensive missiles might have been able to adjust and reacquire. If the range at launch had been longer, the attacking missiles would have been forced to bring up their ECM sooner, because they would have been intercepted further out. That would have given d’Arezzo’s onboard systems and more powerful computers a longer look at the emitters’ patterns. Would have allowed him to analyze them and refine his counter-missiles’ solutions against them while they were still accepting downlinked control data from Hexapuma. Would have allowed him a third-tier launch.

    But none of those things were going to happen, and the Havenite missiles broke past the first-tier counter-missiles almost completely unscathed. The second-tier birds did better, taking out fourteen of the attack missiles. But that left sixty-six still incoming. Some of them had to be dedicated ECM platforms, with no laser heads, and CIC had identified half a dozen of them and designated them to be ignored by defensive fire. There had to be more of them, but there was no time to sort them out; every one of the other missiles had to be considered an attack bird, and Hexapuma’s last-ditch point defense lasers began to fire with computer-controlled desperation.

    She nailed another thirty-two missiles in the fleeting seconds she had to engage them. Another eleven laser heads wasted their fury on the impenetrable roof or floor of her impeller wedge. Of the fifteen remaining potential attack missiles, seven turned out to be ECM platforms.

    Eight weren’t.

    The universe heaved about Helen as eight laser heads detonated as one, lashing her ship with deadly bomb-pumped fury. The computers running the simulation had tied Auxiliary Control’s grav plates into the sim. Now the midshipmen’s senses insisted that AuxCon was twisting and bucking, that Hexapuma’s entire massive hull was flexing, as transfer energy blasted into her. The cruiser’s protective sidewalls had bent and blunted most of the incoming lasers, and the ship’s armor absorbed still more damage. But those missiles had come from a battlecruiser, not another cruiser. They were capital ship missiles, and Peep warheads were bigger and more powerful than Manticoran warheads as compensation for their less capable ECM and EW. No cruiser sidewall in the galaxy could have actually stopped them.

    “Hits on Beta-Three, Beta-Five, and Alpha-Two!” Ragnhild announced from Engineering, even as alarms shrilled. “Heavy casualties in Impeller One! We’ve lost Sidewall Two, Four, and Six! Radar Two and Lidar Two down! Direct hits on Graser Four and Graser Eight, and Missile Four, Six, and Ten are out of the net! Magazine Three is open to space! Heavy damage between Frame Three-Niner and Frame Six-Six!”

    Hexapuma’s acceleration fell as enemy fire hammered her forward alpha and beta nodes. Her starboard sidewall fluctuated as more hits smashed the forward generators. Then it came back up -- at greatly reduced strength -- as Ragnhild spread the capacity of the surviving generators to cover the deadly gap. If not for the skew turn Helen had ordered, which had twisted Hexapuma up on her side relative to the Peep battlecruiser, interposing her impeller wedge on the direct attack bearing, it would have been even worse.

    Not that what they had wasn’t bad enough.

    “Evasion pattern Delta-Québec-Seven!” she snapped. “Half-roll us inverted, Helm!”

    “Delta-Québec-Seven, aye!” Senior Chief Waltham responded. “Rolling ship now!”

    The maneuver whipped Hexapuma’s wounded starboard side away from the enemy. It turned her impeller wedge away from the maximum protective angle, but it brought her undamaged port broadside to bear and put the weakened sidewall farther away, made it a harder target. The decoys were fully on-line now, too. That might make a difference…

    And, Helen thought grimly, our starboard sensors have been shot to shit. At least this way we can see the bastards!

    D’Arezzo sent a double broadside of his own roaring off towards the enemy. It crossed the enemy’s second broadside seconds after launch, and the plot was a seething confusion of incoming and outgoing missile wedges cutting holes in Hexapuma’s sensor coverage like old fashioned gunsmoke, more counter-missiles stabbing into the Peep’s massive attack wave, laser clusters firing furiously, and then --

    AuxCon heaved madly one last time, and every light went out.

    The absolute blackness lingered for the prescribed fifteen seconds. Then the master plot came back up, and two blood-red words floated in the darkness before them like a disembodied curse.

    “SIMULATION OVER,” they said.




    “Be seated, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Abigail Hearns said, and the midshipmen sat back down in the briefing room chairs from which they’d risen as she entered the compartment.

    She walked briskly across to the head of the table and took her own seat, then keyed her terminal on-line. She glanced once at the notes it displayed, then looked up with a faint smile.

    “That could have gone better,” she observed, and Helen writhed mentally at the stupendous understatement of that mild sentence. She hadn’t been hammered that brutally in a simulation since her second form. An ignoble part of her wanted to blame her command team. Especially, she realized with a flicker of guilt, her tactical officer. But however tempting that might be, it would have been a lie.

    “Ms. Zilwicki,” Abigail said, looking at her calmly, “would you care to comment on what you think went wrong?”

    The younger woman visibly squared her shoulders, but that was the only outward sign she allowed of the intense frustration Abigail knew she must be feeling at this moment.

    “I made a poor initial tactical assessment, Ma’am,” she said crisply. “I failed to properly appreciate the actual composition of the opposition force and based my tactics on my incorrect understanding of the enemy’s capabilities. I also failed to realize the enemy flagship was only simulating impeller damage. Worse, I allowed my initial errors to affect my interpretation of the enemy’s actual intentions.”

    “I see.” Abigail considered her for a moment, then looked at Midshipman d’Arezzo. “Would you concur, Mr. d’Arezzo?” she asked.

    “The initial assessment was certainly inaccurate, Ma’am,” d’Arezzo replied. “However, I should point out that as Tactical Officer, I was the one who initially evaluated the Peep flagship as a heavy cruiser, just as I also classified her as damaged by our fire. Ms. Zilwicki formulated her tactics based upon my erroneous classifications.”

    Zilwicki’s eyes flicked sideways to the midshipman’s profile as he spoke, and Abigail thought she detected a trace of surprise in them. Good, she thought. I still haven’t figured out exactly what her problem with d’Arezzo is, but it’s time she got over it, whatever it may be.

    “Ms. Zilwicki?” she invited.

    “Uh.” Helen gave herself a mental shake, embarrassed by her own hesitation. But she hadn’t been able to help it. The last thing she’d expected was for self-absorbed Paulo d’Arezzo to voluntarily assume a share of the guilt for such a monumental fiasco.

    “Mr. d’Arezzo may have misidentified the enemy flagship and the extent of its damage, Ma’am,” she said after a heartbeat, shoving her surprise aside, “but I don’t believe that was his fault. In retrospect, it’s obvious the Peeps were using their EW to spoof our sensors into thinking Bogey One was a heavy cruiser -- and an old, obsolete unit, at that. Moreover, CIC made the same identification. And whatever his assessments might have been, I fully concurred with them.”

    Abigail nodded. D’Arezzo was right to point out his ID errors, but Zilwicki was equally right to bring up CIC’s matching mistake. The Combat Information Center’s primary responsibility, after all, was to process sensor data, analyze it, plot it, and display the necessary information for the ship’s bridge crew. But the tactical officer had access to the raw data herself, and it was one of her responsibilities to assess -- or at least demand a CIC recheck of -- any ship ID or damage state which struck her as questionable. And if d’Arezzo had looked carefully enough at the “heavy cruiser’s” emissions signature, he probably would have noticed the tiny discrepancies Abigail had carefully built into the Havenite’s” false image when she tweaked Lieutenant Commander Kaplan’s original scenario.

    “That’s true enough, Ms. Zilwicki,” she said after a moment. “As were Mr. d’Arezzo’s comments. However, I believe both of you are missing a significant point.”

    She paused, considering whether or not to call on one of the other midshipmen. From Kagiyama’s expression she suspected he knew where she was headed, and having the point made by one of their fellows would probably give it more emphasis -- and underscore the fact that they should have thought of it themselves at the time. But it could also lead to resentment, a sense of having been put down by one of their own.

    “I’d like all of you to consider,” she said after a moment, instead of calling on Kagiyama, “that you failed to make full use of the sensor capabilities available to you. Yes, at the moment the enemy brought up their impellers, they were already within your shipboard sensor envelope. But they were far enough out, especially given that sensor conditions in hyper are never as good as in n-space, that relying solely on shipboard capabilities gave away sensor reach. If you’d deployed a remote array, you would almost certainly have had sufficient time to get it close enough to the ‘heavy cruiser’ to burn through its EW before it managed to draw you so badly off balance and out of position.”

    She saw consternation -- and self-recrimination -- flicker through Zilwicki’s eyes. Clearly, the sturdily-built midshipwoman was unaccustomed to losing. Equally clearly, she disliked the sensation… especially when she thought it was her own fault.

    “Now,” Abigail continued, satisfied there was no need to dwell on her point, “conceding that the initial misidentification and failure to realize the enemy flagship was only simulating damage were the primary causes of what happened, there were also a few other missteps. For example, when the flanking destroyer began to pull out to swing around you, you changed heading to close the range. Was that an optimal decision… Ms. Pavletic?”

    “In retrospect, no, Ma’am,” Ragnhild replied. “At the time, and given what we all believed the situation to be, I would have done exactly the same thing. But looking back, I think it would have been better to maintain our original course even if our misinterpretations had been accurate.”

    “Why?” Abigail asked.

    “The tin can wasn’t going to get outside the Kitty’s missel env--“

    The midshipwoman chopped herself off abruptly, and her face turned an interesting shade of deep, alarming red. Abigail felt her lips quiver, but somehow -- thank Tester! -- she managed to keep from chuckling, or even smiling, and completing the Pavletic’s destruction. A stricken silence filled the compartment, and she felt every middy’s eyes upon her, awaiting the thunderbolt of doom certain to incinerate their late, lamented colleague for her deadly impiety.

    “Outside the, ah, who’s what, Ms. Paveltic?” Abigail asked calmly, as soon as she felt reasonably certain she had control of her.

    “I’m sorry, Ma’am,” Ragnhild said miserably. “I meant Hexapuma. Outside Hexapuma’s missile envelope.”

    “I gathered you were referring to the ship, Ms. Paveltic. But I’m afraid I still haven’t quite caught the name by which you called her,” Abigail said pleasantly, eyes holding the honey-blond midshipwoman steadily.

    “I called her the Kitty, Ma’am,” Ragnhild admitted finally. “That’s, ah, sort of our unofficial nickname for her. Just among ourselves, I mean. We haven’t used it with anyone else.”

    “You call a heavy cruiser the ‘Kitty,’” Abigail said, repeating the name very carefully.

    “Um, actually, Ma’am,” Leo Stottmeister said, speaking up manfully in Ragnhild’s defense -- or at least to draw fire from her, “we call her the Nasty Kitty. It’s… really meant as a compliment. Sort of a reference to how new and powerful she is, and, well… .”

    His voice trailed off, and Abigail gazed at him as levelly as she had at Pavletic. Several seconds of tense silence stretched out, and then she smiled.

    “Most crews end up bestowing nicknames on their ships,” she said. “Usually it’s a sign of affection. Sometimes it isn’t. And some are better than others. A friend of mine once served in a ship -- William Hastings, a Grayson heavy cruiser -- which ended up called Shivering Billy because of a nasty harmonic she picked up in two of her forward impeller nodes one fine day. Then there’s HMS Retaliation, known to her crew as HMS Ration Tin, for reasons no one seems to remember. Or HMS Ad Astra, a perfectly respectable dreadnought which was known as Fat Astor when she was still in commission. Given the alternatives, I suppose ‘Nasty Kitty’ isn’t all that bad.” She saw them beginning to relax and smiled sweetly. “Of course,” she added, “I’m not the Captain.”

    The newborn relaxation vanished instantly, and she smothered another stillborn chuckle. Then she shook her head and pointed at Paveltic again.

    “Before we were interrupted, I believe you were going to explain why turning towards the destroyer wasn’t, after all, the best available option, Ms. Pavletic?”

    “Uh, yes, Ma’am,” the midshipwoman said. “I was saying that she wasn’t going to be able to get outside our missile envelope, whatever she did. Not with Mark 16's in the tubes. If she’d tried to swing wide enough for that, she’d have taken herself out of any position to attack the convoy, and she literally didn’t have the time and accel to pull it off whatever she tried to do. So if we’d maintained our course, we could still have engaged her without turning our backs on the Peep flagship.”

    “Which would also have kept our forward sensors oriented on the ‘heavy cruiser,’” Helen added, and Abigail nodded with a slight smile of approval.

    “Yes, it would,” she agreed. The forward sensors aboard most warships, including Hexapuma, were significantly more capable than their broadside sensors, because they were more likely to be the ones their crews relied upon when pursuing a fleeing enemy. Given the “bow wave” of charged particles which built up on the forward particle shielding of any vessel as it approached relativistic velocities, the sensors designed to see through it had to be more capable. Which meant they would have been more likely than Hexapuma’s broadside sensors to see through the enemy’s EW.

    “Once the decision to close on and engage Bogey Three had been made,” she continued, “there was the question of fire distribution. While ensuring the prompt destruction of your target was appropriate, a full double broadside represented a considerable margin of overkill. Given that, it might have been wiser to throw at least a few more birds at the ‘heavy cruiser’ at the same time. If nothing else, that would have required her to defend herself, in which case it might have become evident she had a lot more point defense and counter missile tubes than a heavy cruiser ought to have. In addition, if she really had been the heavy cruiser she was pretending to be, and if you actually had inflicted the damage she was pretending you had, her defenses might have been sufficiently compromised for you to land additional hits with only a portion of your full missile power. That, however, could definitely be argued either way. Concentration of fire’s a cardinal principle of successful tactics, and although the destroyer wasn’t yet in range to threaten the convoy, she was the closer threat. And, of course, if the ‘heavy cruiser’ had actually suffered the impeller damage you believed she had -- and if she’d been unable to repair it -- you’d have had plenty of time to deal with her.”

    She paused again, watching her students -- although it still felt peculiar to consider people so close to her own age “students” -- digest what she’d just said. She gave them a few seconds to consider it, then turned back to Ragnhild Pavletic.

    “Now, Ms. Pavletic,” she said with a pleasant smile. “About your damage control response to the initial damage. Had you considered, when Sidewall Two was destroyed, the possibility of rerouting…”

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