Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Mission of Honor: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Friday, July 2, 2010 20:58 EDT



    “The Solarian League can’t accept something like this — not out of some frigging little pissant navy out beyond the Verge — not matter what kind of provocation they may think they have! If we let them get away with this, God only knows who’s going to try something stupid next!”

– Fleet Admiral Sandra Crandall, SLN

February, 1922, Post Diaspora

    “Well, this is a fine kettle of fish. Excuse me — another fine kettle of fish.”

    Elizabeth Winton’s tone was almost whimsical; her expression was anything but. Her brown eyes were dark, radiating anger, determination, and not a little bit of fear, and the treecat stretched across her lap, instead of the back of her chair this time, was very, very still.

    “It’s not exactly a complete surprise,” Hamish Alexander-Harrington, the Earl of White Haven, pointed out.

    “No,” the queen agreed, “although the confirmation that this Anisimovna understated the number of superdreadnoughts rattling around the Verge probably comes under that heading.”

    “I doubt anyone’s likely to disagree with that, Your Majesty,” Sir Anthony Langtry said dryly.

    “And I doubt anyone in this room thinks discovering they’re really out there’s going to make things any better,” William Alexander, Baron Grantville, pointed out.

    “That depends entirely on what sort of officer’s in command of them,” Admiral Sir Thomas Caparelli, the First Space Lord of the Royal Manticoran Navy, told the prime minister. “If this Crandall has the brains of a fruit fly, she’ll stay where she is and try to keep things from spinning any further out of control until she knows exactly what happened at New Tuscany and she’s had time to seek guidance from home.”

    “And just what leads you to assume any Solarian flag officer sent to the Madras Sector is going to have two brain cells to rub together, Sir Thomas?” Elizabeth asked acidly. “I’m willing to concede that there might be one or two Frontier Fleet commodores who were already in the area who could seal their own shoes without printed instructions. But if the officer in command of those ships was sent out under the same master plan that sent Byng, she’s either a complete and total idiot who needs help wiping drool off her chin — and God knows the Solarian League’s got enough of them to go around! — or else she’s in Manpower’s pocket. In the first case, she’s going to react as if Mike’s fleet is a nail and she’s a hammer out of blind, unthinking spinal reflex. In the second case, she’s going to react as if Mike’s fleet is a nail and she’s a hammer because that’s what Manpower’s paying her to do. From the perspective of the nail, I don’t think it makes a lot of difference.”

    White Haven winced mentally at the queen’s succinct, biting analysis. Less because of the tone in which it was delivered than because of its accuracy. Of course, there was one little problem with her analogy.

    “In this case, though,” he pointed out aloud, “the hammer doesn’t have a clue what it’s about to let itself in for. Or, at least, if it does, it’s going to be a lot less eager to start banging away.”

    “How realistic is it to hope this Crandall realizes how big her disadvantage really is?” Grantville asked.

    “If I knew the answer to that one, Willie, we wouldn’t need all of Pat Givens’ boys and girls over at ONI,” his brother replied. “Anyone who looks at what Mike did at New Tuscany with an open, unprejudiced mind is going to realize just how outclassed he and his ships were. Unfortunately, if she moved out immediately after Reprise spotted her at in Meyers, she won’t have had time to hear anything about Second New Tuscany. And even if she waited long enough to hear from the dispatch boat that got away from Mike, she’d have to be able to make the leap from what happened to a single battlecruiser to what could happen to an entire fleet of superdreadnoughts. As Her Majesty has just pointed out, it’s not unlikely anyone Manpower’s recruited for this command is going to be all that interested in looking at the data. And even if she is, I suspect she’s still too likely to figure her superdreadnoughts are a hell of a lot tougher than any battlecruiser ever built.”

    “And that they’re enough tougher she doesn’t have to worry about any slick little tricks mere battlecruisers might try against them?” Grantville finished the thought for him with a question.

    “Pretty much,” Caparelli agreed. “More than that, she may hope we haven’t been able to reinforce. In that case, she’s going to want to move quickly, before we do send in additional units.”

    “Do you agree with Mike’s assessment about their probable targeting priorities, Sir Thomas?” Elizabeth asked, her fingers caressing Ariel’s ears.

    “Judging from we’ve seen of their contingency planning from the databases she captured at New Tuscany, I’d say yes, Your Majesty.” The first space lord grimaced. “If it weren’t for the wormhole, I’d be positive they were going to jump straight at Spindle. Given the importance of the Lynx Terminus, though, it’s pretty much a coin toss. I don’t see them splitting up and going after individual star systems in the Quadrant until after they’ve nailed Tenth Fleet. Not assuming Crandall knows what happened at New Tuscany, at any rate. But the idea of seizing the terminus, holding it to keep us from reinforcing while simultaneously forcing Admiral Gold Peak to come to them if she wants to reopen her line of communications, would have to appeal to a Solly strategist.”

    “I wish it would,” White Haven muttered, and Caparelli barked a laugh of harsh agreement.

    “Hamish is right about that, Your Majesty,” he said. “We’ve got all but one of the forts fully online now. And we’ve got Apollo system-defense birds deployed in depth to cover them. In fact, we were planning on recalling Jessup Blaine from Lynx to refit his pod-layers with Keyhole-Two and Apollo.”

    “So you and Hamish are both confident the Lynx Terminus could hold off seventy-one superdreadnoughts if it had to?”

    “Your Majesty, at the risk of sounding immodest, the only real question would be how long it took us to blow all seventy-one of them out of space. Those forts were designed to hold that terminus without any outside support against the attack of two hundred and fifty of our own pre-Apollo podnoughts. Now that they have Apollo, their defensive capability’s been multiplied many times. We still aren’t sure by exactly how much, but it’s got to be at least a factor of four.”

    “Then Admiral Blaine could –” Elizabeth began.

    “Admiral Blaine already has, Your Majesty,” Caparelli interrupted. “I sent his new orders before I started over to the Palace. If he hasn’t already departed for Spindle, he’ll be underway within the hour. And even though he doesn’t have Apollo, his command would still eat those Solly superdreadnoughts for lunch. And there’s one other bit of good news to go with that one — Admiral Gold Peak’s Apollo ammunition ships are almost forty-eight hours ahead of the last schedule update she’s received.”

    Elizabeth relaxed visibly, but Ariel raised his head and glanced at White Haven a moment before the earl cleared his throat. The quiet sound drew the queen’s attention, too, and an eyebrow rose.

    “What Tom just said is completely accurate, Your Majesty,” he said, “and I unreservedly support both his analysis and his instructions to Admiral Blaine. The problem is that it’s unlikely Blaine could arrive at Spindle before the Sollies do, assuming they come straight from Meyers. So, if they do decide to move against Mike, she’s going to have to take them on with what she has, and even if the Apollo pods get there in time, she doesn’t have Keyhole-Two or pod-layers.”

    “And if they hit Mike without Blaine and before the ammunition ships get there, what are her chances?” Elizabeth asked quietly.



    “From what I’ve seen of the tech readouts from their battlecruisers’ databases,” Caparelli replied for the earl after a moment, “and assuming the count on Crandall’s SDs is accurate and Admiral Gold Peak fights as smart as she’s always fought before, I’d say her chances range from about even to fairly good. There’s no way she could survive in energy range of that many superdreadnoughts — I don’t care what class they are — but I very seriously doubt that any Solarian superdreadnought’s going to survive to close to energy range. Their missile armaments are light, even by our pre-pod standards, and from our examination of the battlecruisers’ counter-missiles and those ‘Halo’ decoy platforms of theirs, they still don’t have a clue what the new missile threat environment really is. For that matter, assuming the stats we’ve pulled out of the computers are really accurate — which, to be honest, in some instances I find a little difficult to believe — at least two thirds of their reserve fleet’s still equipped with autocannon point defense, not lasers.”

    “You’re joking,” Langtry said, his expression eloquent of disbelief.

    “No, I’m not.” Caparelli shook his head for added emphasis. “As I say, it’s hard to believe, but that’s what the data says. In fact, it looks to Pat’s analysts as if they’ve only just recently really started to become aware of the increased missile threat. From the reports we’ve had from Second Congo, at least someone in the League’s been experimenting with extended-range shipkillers, but whatever Mesa may’ve told Luft and his lunatics, there’s no evidence the one doing the experimenting is the SLN. They’re upgrading their current-generation anti-ship missiles, but only marginally, and according to our captured data from Byng, the improvements are to seekers and EW capabilities, not range.

    “Defensively, there’s some information in the data about something called ‘Aegis,’ which is supposed to be a major advance in missile defense. As nearly as we can tell, though, what it really amounts to is ripping out a couple of broadside energy mounts, replacing them with additional counter missile fire control and telemetry links, and then using main missile tubes to launch additional canisters of counter-missiles. It’s going to thicken their counter-missile fire, but only at the expense of taking several shipkiller missiles out of an already light broadside. And to make things worse from their perspective, their counter-missiles themselves aren’t as good as ours; the fire control software we’ve been looking at was several generations out of date, by our standards, at the start of the last war with Haven; and even on the ships where they’ve converted the autocannon to laser clusters, they don’t appear to have increased the number of point defense stations appreciably.”

    He shook his head again, his eyes bleak with satisfaction.

    “I don’t doubt that they’ve increased their anti-missile capability from what it used to be, Tony,” he said. “And it’s going to take more missiles to kill their ships than it would have before they did it. But the end result’s going to be the same, and if Admiral Gold Peak doesn’t have Apollo, she’s got at least four missile colliers stuffed full of Mark 23 flatpacks, her shipboard magazines are full of Mark 16s, mostly with the new laserheads, and every one of her Nikes has Keyhole One. Trust me. If this Solly admiral’s stupid enough to ram her head into Spindle, Admiral Gold Peak will give her the mother of all migraines. She may not be able to keep Crandall from taking control of the planet’s orbitals if she’s willing to suck up the losses involved, but she’ll be damned lucky if she has ten percent of her ships left when Tenth Fleet runs out of ammo.”

    “Which will only make this mess even messier from a diplomatic standpoint,” Langtry pointed out. “Especially with this new story O’Hanrahan broke.”

    “Oh, thank you, Tony!” Grantville snorted. “I could have gone all week without thinking about that one!”

    “It was a master stroke, wasn’t it?” Elizabeth said sourly. “If there’s one newsy in the entire Solarian League no one could ever accuse of being in Manpower’s pocket, it’s Audrey O’Hanrahan. In fact, the way she was beating up on Frontier Security, Manpower, and Technodyne over Monica only gives this new ’scoop’ of hers even more impact.”

    “I still don’t understand how they did it.” White Haven shook his head. “It’s obvious from her past accomplishments that she’s got contacts that should have spotted any forged data, no matter how well it was done. So how did they manage to fool her this time around?”

    “Well, Pat’s own analysts have all confirmed that the data she’s using in her reports carries what appear to be genuine New Tuscan Navy security and ID codes,” Caparelli said. “It may’ve been doctored — in fact, we know what parts of it were, and we’re trying to figure out how to demonstrate that fact — but it certainly looks like the official record of what happened. And to be fair to O’Hanrahan, she’s never claimed that she’s been able to confirm the accuracy of the data on the chips — only that all of her ‘informed sources’ agree it came directly from the New Tuscans and that it’s been certified by the New Tuscan Navy . . . unlike the data we’ve supplied.”

    “Which only makes it worse, in a lot of ways,” Langtry observed. “She’s not the one beating the drums, just the one who handed them the drumsticks. In fact, in the last ‘faxes I’ve seen from Old Terra, she’s actually protesting — pretty vehemently — that other newsies and talking heads are reading a lot more into her story than she ever meant for them to.”

    “So she’s got good intentions. Great!” White Haven said dourly. “If I recall correctly, Pandora wasn’t all that successful at stuffing things back into the box, either.”

    “Fair enough,” Langtry agreed. “On the other hand, I detect Malachai Abruzzi’s hand in all this, as well.”

    “But there’s no way this is going to stand up in the end,” Elizabeth protested. “Too many people in New Tuscany know what really happened. Not to mention the fact that we’ve already got the New Tuscan Navy’s sensor records for the period involved, complete with all the same security and ID codes — and time chops — and the real records don’t begin to match the ones someone handed her.”

    “With all due respect, your Majesty,” Langtry said, “we have exactly the same kind of evidence and substantiation where our prewar diplomatic correspondence with Haven is concerned. In fact, I have to wonder if our little disagreement with the Peeps isn’t what suggested this particular ploy to Manpower. Or to Mesa, for that matter.” The foreign secretary grimaced. “It’s almost like some kind of’ perfect storm,’ isn’t it? First Mesa drops Green Pines on us, and then O’Hanrahan, of all people, gives us the follow-up punch with this cock-and-bull story from New Tuscany.”

    “I think it was deliberately orchestrated,” White Haven said grimly. “Both stories came out of — or at least through Mesa — after all. I’ll lay you any odds you like that the whole business about dispatches from New Tuscany’s a complete fabrication. Somebody in Mesa planned this very carefully, and I’ll also bet you they deliberately set O’Hanrahan up to front for them exactly because she’s always been so careful to be as accurate as possible. And the fact that she was one of the few Solly newsies questioning their version of Green Pines and demanding hard evidence to back up their claims only makes her even more damaging on this story, since no one in the galaxy could possibly accuse her of carrying water for Mesa in the past.” The earl shook his head. “Playing her this way was probably a little risky from their perspective, but look at how it’s paid off for them.

    “And even if the truth is staring them right in the eye, people like Abruzzi and Quartermain and Kolokoltsov are capable of projecting perfect candor while they look the other way,” Grantville added. “They’ll swear the version that suits their purposes is the truth, despite any evidence to the contrary, and figure that when the smoke clears and it turns out they were wrong, they’ll get away with it by saying ‘oops’. After all, it was an honest mistake, wasn’t it?”



    He grinned savagely, and his tone was viciously sarcastic as he went on.

    “I can hear them now. ‘We’re so sorry that our very best efforts to sort out the facts went awry, but in the meantime we just happen to have conquered a small, insignificant star nation called Manticore. It’s all very unfortunate, but there it is, and you can’t pour the spilled milk back into the glass, you know. So we’ll just have to set up an interim government under the auspices of Frontier Security — only until the Manties get back on their feet and can elect a properly democratic government on the best Solarian pattern, so that misunderstandings like this don’t arise in the future, of course. We’d never dream of interfering with their right of self-determination beyond that! Cross our hearts!’”

    “I suppose you’re right,” Elizabeth said drearily. “And if Sir Anthony’s right about Abruzzi and their Ministry of Information’s involvement in pushing this story, it sounds as if that’s exactly what they’re deciding to do.”

    “It’s what they’re preparing the groundwork to do, at any rate, Your Majesty,” Langtry agreed quietly.

    “And if those superdreadnoughts at Meyers actually do attack Spindle, then, especially against this backdrop of O’Hanrahan’s story, they’re almost certainly going to decide they’re in too deep to back out,” White Haven added.

    “In that case, it’s probably a good thing I finally listened to Honor.” Elizabeth drew a sharp breath, then shook herself and smiled. It was a tense smile, and no one would ever have described it as a happy one, but there was no panic in it. “It looks like we’re about to get a chance to see how sound her strategic prescription for fighting the Solarian League really is. And if we are, then it’ll be a damned good idea to get the Republic of Haven off our backs while we do it. Do you suppose I ought to make that point to her when we send her a copy of Mike’s dispatch?”

    The smile turned almost whimsical with the last sentence, and White Haven chuckled.

    “Trust me, Your Majesty. My wife’s actually quite a bright woman. I’m pretty sure she’ll figure that out on her own.”



    Fleet Admiral Sandra Crandall had never been a good woman to disappoint. She was a big woman, with a hard, determined face and what one thankfully anonymous subordinate had once described as the disposition of a grizzly bear with hemorrhoids trying to pass pinecones. In fact, Commander Hago Shavarshyan thought, that had been a gross libel against grizzly bears.

    Shavarshyan was in a better position than most to appreciate that, since he had the dubious good fortune of having been added to Crandall’s staff as a last moment afterthought. Apparently, it had occurred to her only after she’d decided to go to war against the Royal Manticoran Navy that it might, perhaps, be a good idea to have a staff intelligence officer who actually knew something about local conditions. Which was how Commander Shavarshyan found himself the single Frontier Fleet officer attached to a fleet whose staff , like every one of its senior squadron and division commanders, consisted otherwise solely of Battle Fleet officers, all of whom outranked him, and all of whom seemed to be competing to see who could agree most vehemently with their admiral.

    Those thoughts floated through the back of Shavarshyan’s brain as he stood behind the briefing officer’s podium while Crandall and the other members of her staff settled down around the long briefing room table aboard SLNS Joseph Buckley.

    “All right,” Crandall growled once they were seated. “Let’s get to it.”

    “Yes, Ma’am.”

    Shavarshyan squared his shoulders and put on his best professional expression, although everyone in the briefing room knew he’d received no fresh data in the thirty-five days since they’d left Meyers. That, unfortunately, wasn’t what Crandall wanted to hear about.

    “As you know, Ma’am,” he continued briskly, “Admiral Ou-yang’s people and I have continued our study of Admiral Sigbee’s New Tuscany dispatches. We’ve combined their contents with all the information available to Frontier Fleet’s analysts, as well, of course, and I’ve compiled a report of all our observations and conclusions. I’ve mailed copies of it to all of you, which should be waiting in your in-baskets, but for the most part, unfortunately, I’m forced to say we really don’t have any startling new insights since my last report. I’m afraid we’ve pretty much mined out the available ore, Admiral. I wish I could offer you something more than that, but anything else would be pure speculation, at best.”

    “But you stand by this nonsense about the Manties’ missile ranges?” Vice Admiral Pépé Bautista, Crandall’s chief of staff, asked skeptically. Bautista’s manner was more often than not caustic even with his fellow Battle Fleet officers, if they were junior to him. He clearly saw no reason to restrain his natural abrasiveness where a mere Frontier Fleet commander was concerned.

    “Exactly which nonsense would that be, Sir?” Shavarshyan inquired as politely as possible.

    “I find it hard enough to credit Gruner’s report that the Manties opened fire on Jean Bart from forty million kilometers out.” He grimaced. “I’d like to see at least some reliable sensor data before I jump onto that bandwagon! But even granting that’s correct, are you seriously suggesting they may have even more range?”

    “Sir, I’d like to have better data myself,” Shavarshyan acknowledged, and that much was completely sincere. Lieutenant Aloysius Gruner was the commanding officer of Dispatch Boat 17702, the only unit of Josef Byng’s ill-fated command to escape before Byng’s death and Sigbee’s surrender. Gruner had been sent off very early in the confrontation, which explained how he’d evaded the Manties to bring back news of the catastrophe in the first place. Apparently, Admiral Byng, in yet another dazzling display of incompetence, had seen no reason even to order his other courier boats to bring up their nodes, which meant they’d all still been sitting helplessly in orbit when Sigbee surrendered. They were fortunate the one boat he had ordered to get underway had still been close enough to receive Sigbee’s burst-transmitted final dispatch — the one which had announced Jean Bart’s destruction and her own surrender — but there’d been no time for her to send DB 17702 detailed tactical reports or sensor data on the Manties’ weapons. And, through no fault of Gruner’s, he couldn’t provide that information either, since courier boats’ sensor suites weren’t what anyone might call sophisticated. Although he’d been able to tell them what had happened, more or less, they had virtually no hard information on how the Manties had made it happen. Additional information might well have been sent to Meyers by now, but if so, it was still somewhere in the pipeline astern of Task Force 496.

    Of course it is, Shavarshyan thought bitingly. Anything else would actually have suggested there was at least a smidgeon of competence somewhere among the people running this cluster-fuck.

    “At the same time, Lieutenant Gruner was there,” he continued out loud. “He saw what actually happened, and even if we don’t have the kind of data I’d prefer, he was very emphatic about the engagement range. Nothing in Sigbee’s dispatch suggests he was wrong, either. And given the geometry of the engagement, forty million kilometers at launch equates to something on the order of twenty-nine or thirty million kilometers from rest. Now, nothing we have — not even those big, system-defense missiles Technodyne deployed to Monica — have that kind of range, that kind of powered endurance, but thirty million klicks from rest would work out pretty close to the consecutive endurance for two missile drives at the observed acceleration. So, the only conclusion I can come up with, is that they must really have gone ahead and put multiple drives into their missiles. And if they’ve put in enough drives to give them a powered envelope of thirty million kilometers, I just think it might be wiser to consider the possibility that they might have even more range than that.”

    His tone could not have been more respectful or nonconfrontational, but he’d seen Bautista’s jaw tighten at the reference to Monica. Not, Shavarshyan felt confident, so much at the reminder of the Technodyne missiles’ enhanced range as at the fact that the Manties’ missiles had out-ranged even them. Which, of course, was the reason the Shavarshyan had mentioned it.



    Bautista started to open his mouth angrily, but Vice Admiral Ou-Yang Zhing-Wei, Crandall’s operations officer, spoke up before he could.

    “I’m disinclined to think they could have a great deal more range Pépé, but Commander Shavarshyan is right. It’s a possibility we have to bear in mind.”

    “Yes, it is,” Crandall agreed, although she manifestly didn’t like doing so. “All the same,” she continued, “it really doesn’t matter in the long run. Assuming Gruner’s observations and Sigbee’s report were accurate at all, we already knew we were going to be out-ranged by at least some of these people’s missiles. On the other hand, I agree with Sigbee — and with you, Commander — that no missile big enough to do that could be fired from missile tubes the size of the ones we’ve actually observed aboard even those big-assed Manty battlecruisers. So they had to come from pods.”

    She shrugged. Like the woman herself, it was a ponderous movement, without grace yet imbued with a self-aware sense of power.

    “But whether they came from pods or missile tubes, they can’t have the fire control links to coordinate enough of them to swamp the task force’s point defense, and their accuracy at such extended ranges — assuming they actually have even more range — has to be poor. I know some of them will get through. We’ll take damage — hell, we may even lose a ship or two! — but there’s no way they’re going to stop a solid wall of battle this size by just chucking missiles at it. And I’m not going to let them bluff me into going easy on them because of some kind of imagined ’super weapon’ they’ve got!”

    She snorted in contempt, and her eyes were harder than ever.

    “By now that damned destroyer of theirs must’ve gotten back to Spindle. I imagine that once they all got done crapping their skinsuits, they sent home for reinforcements. But after the reaming they got from the Havenites, they can’t have much left to reinforce with. So we’re just going to turn up and be their worst nightmare, and we’re going to do it right now.”

    “I understand your thinking, Ma’am,” Ou-yang said. “And I agree we need to move quickly. But it’s one of my responsibilities to see to it that we don’t get hurt any worse than we can help while we pin their ears back the way they’ve got coming. And just between you and me, I’m not all that fond of surprises, even from neobarbs.”

    She rolled her almond eyes drolly with the last phrase, and Crandall chuckled. At least, that was what Shavarshyan thought the sound was. It was difficult, sometimes, to differentiate between the admiral’s snorts of contempt and snorts of amusement. In fact, the commander wasn’t certain there was a difference.

    At the same time, he had to admire Ou-yang’s technique. The operations officer was the closest thing to an ally he had on Crandall’s staff, and he rather thought she shared some of the suspicions which kept him awake at night. For example, there was that nagging question of exactly how someone like Josef Byng, a Battle Fleet officer with limitless contempt for Frontier Fleet, had ended up in command of the Frontier Fleet task force he’d led so disastrously to New Tuscany. Given the involvement of Manpower and Technodyne in what had happened in Monica, and knowing some of the dirty little secrets he wasn’t supposed to know about Commissioner Verrochio and Vice Commissioner Hongbo, Shavarshyan had a pretty fair idea of who’d been pulling strings behind the scenes to bring that about.

    Which brought him to the even more nagging question of exactly how Admiral Crandall had chosen the remote hinterlands of the Madras Sector for her “Exercise Winter Forage.” He was willing to admit the distance from any of Battle Fleet’s lavish bases in the Core and Shell made the sector a reasonable place to evaluate the logistic train’s ability to sustain a force of Battle Fleet wallers for the duration of an extended campaign. On the other hand, they could have done the same thing within a couple of dozen light-years of the Sol System itself, if they’d wanted to pick one of the thoroughly useless, unsettled star systems in the vicinity and just park there.

    But even granting that Battle Fleet had decided it just had to actually deploy its evaluation fleet hundreds of light-years from anywhere in particular in the first Battle Fleet deployment to the Verge in more than division strength in the better part of a century, it still struck him as peculiar that Sandra Crandall should have chosen this particular spot, at this particular time, to carry out an exercise which had been discussed off and on for decades. And one possible explanation for the peculiarity lay in the fact that someone had obviously had the juice to get Byng assigned out here and get him to agree to the assignment. If they could accomplish that outright impossibility, Hago Shavarshyan didn’t see any reason they couldn’t accomplish the mere implausibility of getting Crandall out here for “Winter Forage.”

    He didn’t care for that explanation at all, which unfortunately made it no less likely. But it did leave him with another burning question.

    How deep inside Manpower’s pocket was Sandra Crandall? Shavarshyan hadn’t been a Frontier Fleet intelligence officer for the last fifteen T-years without learning how things happened here in the Verge. So the fact that Manpower had an “understanding” with Verrochio and Hongbo had come as no surprise. He was surprised by Manpower’s apparent reach inside Battle Fleet and the SLN in general, but it wasn’t that much of a stretch from the arrangements he’d already known about. So he could more or less handle the concept of individual Battle Fleet admirals taking marching orders from Manpower.

    He’d come to the conclusion that Byng, at least, had been more in the nature of a ballistic projectile than a guided missile, however. Certainly no one with any sense would have relied upon his competence to accomplish any task more complicated than robbing a candy store. If he’d been running an operation that sent Josef Byng out here, it would have been only because he anticipated that the man’s sheer stupidity and bigotry would steer him into doing pretty much exactly what he’d actually done. He certainly wouldn’t have taken the chance of explaining his real objectives to him, and he would never have relied upon the man’s nonexistent competence when it came to achieving those objectives.

    At first, Shavarshyan had assumed Manpower had been as confident of Byng’s ability to smash the Manties as Byng himself had been. On that basis, his initial conclusion had been that New Tuscany represented the failure of their plans. But then he’d started thinking about Crandall’s presence. If they’d been confident Byng could handle the job, why go to the undoubted expense (and probably the risk) of getting seventy -plus ships-of-the-wall assigned for backup? That sounded more as if they’d expected Byng to get reamed . . . which, after all, was precisely what had happened.

    Assuming all of that was true, the question which had taken on a certain burning significance for Hago Shavarshyan since his unexpected staff reassignment was what they expected to happen to Crandall’s command. Was Byng supposed to provide the pretext while Crandall provided the club? Or was Crandall simply Byng written larger? Was she supposed to get reamed, as well? And was she aware of how her — call them ‘patrons’ — expected and wanted things to turn out? Or was she another ballistic projectile, launched on her way in the confident expectation that she would follow her preordained trajectory to whatever end they had in mind?

    If, in fact, Crandall was intentionally cooperating with Manpower, it seemed pretty clear Ou-yang Zhing-wei wasn’t part of the program. Bautista was basically another Byng, as far as Shavarshyan could tell, but Ou-yang obviously had functioning synapses and a forebrain larger than an olive. In fact, it was the operations officer who’d convinced Crandall that she had to at least attempt a negotiated outcome instead of simply opening fire the minute she crossed the hyper limit. Bautista had all but accused Ou-yang of cowardice, and Crandall clearly hadn’t cared for the note of moderation, but Ou-yang was at least as good at managing her admiral as she was at carrying out training simulations.

    And the fact that it took this fat-assed task force a solid week to get underway probably helped, the commander thought sourly from behind his expressionless face. Not even Crandall can argue that we’re going to have the advantage of surprise when we arrive!

    He’d heard about Crandall’s tirade in Verrochio’s office, complete with its vow to be underway for Spindle within forty-eight hours. Unfortunately, the real life lethargy of Battle Fleet’s stimulus-and-response cycle had gotten in her way.

    Welcome to reality, Admiral Crandall, he thought even more sourly. I hope it doesn’t bite your ass as hard as I’m afraid it will, given that my ass is likely to get bitten right along with yours.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image