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The Shadow of Saganami: Chapter Twenty Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, May 12, 2004 04:31 EDT



    “Sir, if the Nuncians and Lieutenant Hearns are still on profile and Bogey Three hasn’t moved, they’ll be coming up on crossover in approximately twenty-seven minutes.”

    Lieutenant Commander Kaplan’s tone was crisply professional, and Aivars Terekhov nodded in acknowledgment of her warning. And also of what she hadn’t said; assuming the conditions she’d described, Abigail Hearns’ pinnaces were two minutes from the point of furthest advance at which they might have decelerated to a zero/zero intercept at Bogey Three’s current position. The LACs, with their lower acceleration rate, were already past that point, and the joint force was about 2.86 million kilometers -- a little over ninety-five light-seconds -- from Bogey Three. Of course, they’d never really anticipated that the pinnaces would decelerate until after executing their attack run, but they were still getting dangerously close, against even a freighter’s sensors, if Bogey Three’s crew was on its toes. Theoretically, he could wait twenty-six minutes before transmitting the attack order, since the transmission time would be effectively zero for the grav-pulse com. Except for the minor problem that the moment Hexapuma’s FTL com opened up, Bogey One and Two were going to know about it.

    He tilted his command chair back slightly, steepling his fingers under his chin, and contemplated the master tactical plot.

    As he’d anticipated, Bogey One and Bogey Two had continued in-system at their creeping velocity of eighty-six hundred kilometers per second for thirteen hours and twenty-two minutes, headed straight for the position Pontifex would have occupied when they arrived. Given that absolutely undeviating approach, it had been even simpler than he’d expected for Kaplan and Midshipwoman Zilwicki to track them, and the Nuncian LAC Grizzly had been duly vectored into position to “detect” the intruders and sound the alert. The bogeys had responded by cracking on a few dozen gravities of acceleration, accelerating along the same heading and trying to get far enough from Grizzly to drop back off her sensors… again, just as he’d anticipated, and he conscientiously kept reminding himself not to get overconfident.

    It wasn’t an easy thing to remember, at least where the two lead bogeys were concerned. For the last hour and thirty-four minutes Bogey One and Bogey Two -- now identified as a Desforge-class destroyer, one of the Havenites’ older classes, but still a powerful unit for her type -- had been chasing the terrified Rembrandt freighter Nijmegen (so identified by Hexapuma’s transponder code) which had broken from planetary orbit in a foolish, panicky bid to evade them. Only a totally terrified merchant skipper would have fled deeper into Nuncio-B’s gravity well, especially starting with a velocity disadvantage of more than eighty-five hundred kilometers per second and a ship whose best possible acceleration was no more than a hundred and seventy KPS2.

    They’d reacted to their juicy, unanticipated target by going in pursuit at five hundred and thirty-one gravities. The recon drones he’d more than half-feared, despite Bagwell’s inspiration, hadn’t materialized. Probably because Commander Lewis had cooperated so completely with the EWO’s suggestions. No engineer was ever really happy about deliberately overstressing the systems under his care, but Ginger Lewis had seemed to find an unholy delight in the notion.

    “Sucking pirates in where we can kill them, Skipper? And all you want me to do is take a few hours off the components?” The attractive engineering officer’s smile had been decidedly predatory. “No sweat. And if these really are Peep commerce raiders, that’s just extra icing on the cake! Remind me to tell you sometime about my first deployment. I’m in favor of killing as many of the bastards as we can catch!”

    Terekhov had made a mental note to follow up and get the details about that first cruise of hers. But whatever had happened on it, she clearly harbored a pronounced distaste for any pirate, and she’d entered into Bagwell’s ploy with a vengeance. She’d even added a few wrinkles of her own, including a brief, simulated total failure of the wedge while the bogeys were still too far out to actually see the ship herself.

    Terekhov had had Kaplan deploy an additional remote array before Lewis’ simulated failure so he could observe Hexapuma’s sensor image directly himself. His array had been a lot closer than the bogeys were, and probably more sophisticated, to boot. But for all that, had he been one of the pursuing pirates and seen what the array had, he would have bought the illusion completely. The heavy flare Lewis had produced by heterodyning two alpha nodes -- strictly against The Book, and, despite her enthusiasm, more than a little dangerous, even for someone with her skills -- had duplicated the spike of a blown beta node almost perfectly. It had also taken something like three hundred hours off the service life of the nodes in question, but if they nailed a pair of Peep warships operating in the Cluster, Terekhov expected the Admiralty to forgive him for that.

    The wedge shutdown which had followed instantly on the heels of the flare had been even better -- a true work of art. It had been exactly the right length for a frantic civilian engineer to shunt the blown node out of the circuit, reboot her systems, and bring the wedge back up. If Terekhov had been on Bogey One’s bridge, he would have been thoroughly convinced Hexapuma was a limping, staggering, desperate fugitive, running because running was all that was left, not because she truly expected to escape.

    The bogeys seemed to have bought it without question, at any rate. They’d been burning along after Hexapuma at that same, steady five hundred and thirty-one gravities’ acceleration from the instant they detected his ship, and the range between them had fallen from twelve light-minutes to only seven and a third. “Nijmegen” was up to ninety-five hundred kilometers per second, but the bogeys were up to a base velocity of almost thirty-nine thousand. Hexapuma was just over one and a half light-minutes inside Pontifex’s orbit, eight and a half light-minutes from Nuncio-B, which put the bogeys -- at 15.8 light-minutes from the primary -- almost exactly forty-eight light-seconds inside the system’s hyper limit. Better yet, the acceleration they were turning out was fifty gravities lower than Hexapuma’s standard maximum, and a hundred and ninety-five less than she could turn out if she cut her compensator margin to zero.

    The only sour note was that, despite the Mars-class’s obsolescent power plants, she clearly had at least a late pre-cease-fire compensator. The Mars ships were enormous for heavy cruisers -- at 473,000 tons, Bogey One was barely ten thousand tons smaller than Hexapuma -- and they paid for that extra mass with sluggish acceleration. Bogey One’s observed acceleration already exceeded the max her class had been capable of when they were first laid down, but Peep acceleration rates had been creeping upward even before the High Ridge cease-fire. With the latest pre-cease-fire version, a ship of her size could have pulled a maximum acceleration of six hundred and ten, which would have meant she was currently pulling a bit less than eighty-seven percent of her maximum possible acceleration. If she had the post-cease-fire compensator, her max theoretical acceleration should be about six hundred and thirty gravities, in which case she was pulling a bit under eighty-five percent. The Peeps tended to cut their margins finer than the RMN, accepting the risk of catastrophic compensator failure as the cost of shaving away some of the Alliance’s acceleration advantage, so it was possible this ship could have the older compensator.

    But Terekhov had to assume he was up against a post-cease-fire compensator, which meant Hexapuma’s theoretical maximum acceleration was only ninety-six gravities higher than Bogey One’s. Bogey Two, assuming equal generations of compensators, would have a slight acceleration advantage over Hexapuma, but not much of one. Like the Mars-class cruisers, the Desforge-class destroyers were big ships for their types, with correspondingly lower acceleration rates.

    Yet even in a worst-case scenario, with the most modern compensators the Peeps had, there was no longer any way both bogeys could avoid action, given their overtake velocity and the current range.

    They undoubtedly had at least a few gravities in reserve, but he couldn’t know how many until they showed him, so he had to base his estimates on what he’d already seen. And assuming they’d already been operating at max, it would have taken them two hours and four minutes just to decelerate to zero relative to the system primary. At that point, they would have traveled to within 7.7 light-minutes of Nuncio-B, hopelessly inside the system’s hyper limit. Even assuming post-cease-fire compensators, Bogey One would require an hour and forty minutes and be less than nine and a half light-minutes from the primary before she came to rest relative to it. In either case, neither of his targets could possibly escape back across the hyper limit before Hexapuma brought them to action. One of them might be able to avoid close action, if they split up quickly enough and both concentrated solely on running away from her. In that case, Aivars Terekhov knew exactly which ship he would run down and kill… and not just because a cruiser was a more valuable unit than a destroyer.

    He put that shivery, hungry thought aside and made himself consider the possible scenarios.

    Even assuming they did have the later compensators and went to maximum military power with a zero safety margin, if Hexapuma turned on them this instant and went to her own max deceleration, they would meet in seventy-one minutes. Hexapuma’s velocity relative to Nuncio-B would be over 20,550 KPS, directly away from the star, while the bogeys would still be traveling towards the primary at 12,523 KPS when their vectors crossed over at zero. They’d be down to a bit over nine and a half light-minutes from the primary, right in the heart of the system hyper limit, and given Hexapuma’s range advantage and the fact that she had a bow wall while the bogeys almost certainly did not, she should manage to blow both of them out of space (assuming that was her objective) long before their vectors ever intersected.

    But the most likely scenario was that the bogeys would remain at their current compensator settings and begin decelerating within the next twenty-four or twenty-five minutes. If Hexapuma truly had been the crippled, fleeing freighter she’d taken such pains to portray, they’d have to begin decelerating within that time frame to achieve a zero/zero intercept with her if she continued to “flee.” That would take them another ninety-odd minutes, depending on the exact point at which they decided to begin decelerating, and hunter and hunted alike would be traveling at somewhere around 20,200 KPS towards the primary at the moment their vectors merged. Ideally, Terekhov wanted to encourage the bogeys to pursue the “freighter” as long as possible. The shorter the range, and the closer to equalized their velocities, the more devastating his own sudden surprise attack would become.

    The problem was how to tell Hearns and Einarsson within the next twenty-seven minutes that they were cleared to engage the freighter without dissuading the pirates from continuing to close… .




    “Yes, Skipper?”

    “How far out are the tertiary arrays?”

    “They’re approximately thirteen light-minutes outside the bogeys, Sir.”

    “Lieutenant Bagwell.”

    “Yes, Sir?”

    “How likely would you say our bogeys would be to detect a directional grav pulse transmitted directly away from them by one of the stealthed arrays thirteen light-minutes astern of them?”

    “That would depend on how good their sensor suites are, and how good the people using them are,” Bagwell replied. “BuWeaps’ R&D people evaluated and tested as much of their hardware as we could recover from the ships Duchess Harrington knocked out at Sidemore Station. On the basis of their tests, and assuming these people have well-trained, alert sensor crews,” he was punching information into his console as he spoke, cross-indexing against the recorded test data, “I’d have to say they’d have somewhere around a… one-in-ten chance. That might be a little pessimistic, but I’d rather err on the side of overestimating their chances, rather than underestimating.”

    “Understood.” Terekhov pursed his lips for a few moments, then looked back at his EWO. “On the other hand, you’re evaluating their chances on the basis of current first-line equipment, correct?”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    “Assume instead that they have what was first-line equipment as of Operation Buttercup.” Despite himself, Bagwell’s eyebrows rose, and Terekhov smiled thinly. “It’s not as loony as it sounds, Commander. We know these people have Goshawk-Three fusion plants, and those should have been replaced even before the High Ridge cease-fire. They weren’t. I’d say there’s at least a fair chance that if they didn’t replace something as dangerous as that, they also didn’t waste any effort on upgrading Bogey One sensors. Mind you,” his smile got a little broader, “I can’t imagine why they didn’t upgrade both, if they were going to keep the ship in inventory at all. But since we know they didn’t change out the fusion plants --“ He shrugged.

    “Yes, Sir.” Bagwell input additional data, then looked back up at his captain. “Assuming the parameters you’ve specified, Sir, even a well-trained and alert sensor watch would probably have no more than one chance in about two hundred.”

    “Thank you.” Terekhov tipped his chair back once more and thought hard for perhaps ten seconds. Then he straightened up again.

    “Commander Nagchaudhuri.”

    “Yes, Sir?”

    “Assume we wanted to relay through one of the tertiary arrays to the array we deployed with Lieutenant Hearns. Would her array be able to receive a transmission from the FTL telemetry downlinks aboard the tertiary array?”

    “Um.” Nagchaudhuri squinted thoughtfully. “I can’t see why not, Skipper, although that’s actually more of a question for Commander Kaplan and Lieutenant Bagwell, in some ways. There’s no reason the transmitters and receivers aboard the arrays couldn’t manage it, but we’d have to remotely access the software to redirect the downlink to the pinnaces instead of CIC. I’ve got some familiarity with that, but not enough to feel comfortable estimating how complicated it might be.”


    “No reason I can think of why we couldn’t do it, Skipper,” Kaplan said enthusiastically. “Lieutenant Hearn is already hardwired into the telemetry links from her array. We just have to convince the tertiary array to aim its pulses at her, instead of the inner system, and that’s a snap. The systems were designed to allow single arrays to share data between distant recipients by rotating their downlink channels through more than one addressee. Of course,” she cautioned, her expression sobering slightly, “there is at least a small chance Bogey One or Two will also pick them up. The transmitters are directional, and we’ve made a lot of progress since the first FTL coms came in, but we’re still a long way from completely eliminating backscatter. There’s going to be something to see. All in all, I’d say Guthrie’s probability estimate is probably pretty close to on the money, but we could both be wrong.”

    “Very well. Commander Nagchaudhuri.”

    “Yes, Sir?”

    “Commander Kaplan and Lieutenant Bagwell will put together the programming elements. Once they have, you’ll immediately transmit them and release authorization to attack and retake Bogey Three to one of the tertiary arrays, via com laser, for relay to Lieutenant Hearns.”



    The light-speed transmission from Hexapuma to the selected array took twenty minutes and eighteen. Implementation of the piggybacked reprogramming took another twenty-seven seconds. Transmission of the release order required all of sixteen seconds.

    Twenty-one minutes and one second after its transmission from Hexapuma the release authorization appeared on Lieutenant Abigail Hearns’ display… exactly forty-seven seconds before the point at which Captain Einarsson’s little force must either commit to the attack or let the opportunity pass as they went streaking past Bogey Three.



    “Assuming everything went according to plan, Skipper,” Ansten FitzGerald said quietly in Terekhov’s earbug, “Abigail just received the release order. And in about thirty seconds, she’s going to start kicking the shit out of Bogey Three.”

    “I know.” Terekhov had sent the ship to General Quarters, and FitzGerald, with Helen Zilwicki as his tactical officer and Paulo d’Arezzo as his electronic warfare officer, was in Auxiliary Control. AuxCon was a complete, duplicate command bridge located at the far end of Hexapuma’s core hull. If anything unfortunate should happen to Terekhov, Naomi Kaplan, and Guthrie Bagwell, it would be FitzGerald’s job to complete the task at hand.

    Terekhov frowned as that thought flicked through his brain. In many ways, it made sense to keep his most experienced officers here, where command would be exercised unless catastrophic damage smashed the bridge or managed somehow to cut it off from the rest of the ship. The odds against that happening were high, after all. But it was far from impossible, which was why there was an AuxCon to begin with, so perhaps it might also make sense to consider transferring either Bagwell or Kaplan to FitzGerald’s alternate command crew. Because if something did happen to the regular bridge, Hexapuma was probably going to be in such deep shit that FitzGerald would need the very best command team he could get if the ship was going to survive.

    The thought flashed through his mind in the space between one breath and the next, and he nodded to FitzGerald on the small com screen deployed by his right knee.

    “At the moment, she’s forty-six light-minutes from the primary -- thirty-four-plus light-minutes from Bogey One. Allowing for light-speed limitations and how far Bogey One’s going to move in the meantime, that gives us another thirty-six minutes, whatever happens out there.”

    “Yes, Sir,” FitzGerald agreed, and they smiled at one another. “How much closer do you think they’ll get before they finally figure out we’ve been screwing with their minds, Skip?” the exec asked after a moment.

    “Hard to say.” Terekhov shrugged. “They’ve been chasing us for two hours. After that long, they have to’ve gotten our identification as a merchie pretty firmly nailed into their brains. Even the best tac officers have a distinct tendency to go on seeing what they already ‘know’ is there, even after anomalies begin to crop up. The range is down to two hundred and seventy-three light-seconds, and they’ve been decelerating for just over two minutes, so their overtake velocity’s over thirty-three thousand KPS. We’ve managed to get far enough above them for the geometry to keep them from getting a good look up the kilt of our wedge, so the sensor image they’re getting from us is still essentially the one we want them to have. The fact that they aren’t maneuvering more aggressively to try to get that look seems to me to be a further indication that they’ve bought our merchie imitation hook, line, and sinker. So I’d say we’ve got a pretty good chance of their coming all the way in before they realize they’ve been foxed.”

    “Unless Bogey Three does get a warning off,” FitzGerald observed.

    “If accelerations remain constant for another thirty minutes,” Terekhov replied, “the range’ll be down to less than seventy million kilometers, and their overtake velocity will be only a tad over twenty-four thousand KPS.” His smile would have smitten any Old Earth shark with envy. “That’s still outside even our missile envelope, but they’ll be coming towards us, deeper into the gravity well, and we’ve got a higher base acceleration.” He shook his head. “They’re screwed, Ansten. And every minute that passes only makes it worse for them.”

    “Yes, Sir,” FitzGerald agreed. “Of course, the closer they get, the deeper into their engagement envelope we get.”

    “True, but if we’re headed toward them, we’ve got our bow wall, and a ship as old as Bogey One doesn’t. There’s no way they could’ve refitted a bow wall without completely gutting her forward impeller rooms, and that brings us back to those fusion rooms of hers. If they were going to invest the time and money to refit bow wall technology, they’d’ve refitted those power plants at the same time, so without the one, they don’t have the other. Crank in our advantages in missile range, Ghost Rider, and our superior fire control, and you have to like our odds against both of them at almost any range.”

    FitzGerald nodded in agreement, but something about Terekhov’s expression and tone bothered him. Those arctic-blue eyes were brighter than they had been, almost fevered, and the eagerness in the Captain’s voice went beyond mere confidence. Terekhov had baited his trap brilliantly, and Ansten FitzGerald was prepared to wager that the rest of his plan would unfold as predicted. But, the fact remained that Terekhov was deliberately courting action with two hostile units, and the very plan intended to get them to relatively short range at relatively low relative velocities would also give the bogeys their best chance of getting into their own effective range of Hexapuma. In any missile engagement, the Peeps were almost certainly as completely outclassed as Terekhov had suggested. But even an obsolescent Mars-class was a big, powerfully armed unit, and if they managed to get clear down to energy range before they were knocked out of action… .

    “I hope things are going as well for Abigail,” he said.

    “So do I, Ansten,” Terekhov replied, his tone much more sober. “So do I.”

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