The book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.

A Call To Arms – Snippet 35

Well, seventeen, technically, if you added in the group guarding Gryphon. But they were way the hell over at Manticore-B. If the Volsungs did their job properly, that force could be left out of the equation. Llyn’s spies hadn’t been able to get a complete reading on the ship types in each of the two Manticore-A groups, but the earlier report had said the larger force had a single battlecruiser, and there was nothing in this latest intel to suggest that number had changed. The additional ships in the new intel had to be small: destroyers or corvettes.

Plus the fact that all the enthusiasm in the galaxy could mount impeller rings and graduate crewmen only so quickly. Even if Llyn’s current count was off by a ship or two, the Volsungs should be facing no more than the same number of ships they themselves were bringing to the battle.


Gensonne murmured a ruminative curse. The wild card in this whole thing, and a wild card that Llyn either hadn’t noticed or had deliberately downplayed, was this damn HMS Casey. The tables listed it as a standard light cruiser, but it was clear from the specs Llyn’s spies had been able to dig out that there wasn’t anything standard about it, certainly not for ships out here in the hinterlands. From the profile alone, he could see that the Manticorans had put in a modern grav plate habitation module, a high-efficiency radiator system, and had extended the length of their missile launchers. Possibly a railgun launch system; more likely just an absorption cylinder that would minimize the missiles’ launch flares. Nothing really revolutionary, and nothing Gensonne couldn’t handle.

Still, it was far more advanced than it should be, and better than most of the Volsungs’ own second-hand and surplused ships. The report didn’t get into details about armament or defenses, but Gensonne had no doubt that Casey’s designers hadn’t neglected to pack some serious firepower aboard.

And if King Edward had had the authority, the confidence, and the cash to turn his designers loose on Casey, he might well have used that same combination to speed up the de-mothballing of those other ships.

The smart thing would be to put off the operation until Gensonne had time to send his own people to Manticore. Get a real military assessment instead of having to rely on Llyn’s paper-pushing guesswork.

But all he had here were military ships, which would raise way more eyebrows than he wanted. The only civilian spy ships he had available were way the hell back in Silesia. Getting word back there, and then getting one of them to fly to Manticore and to report to him here would take over a year.

Gensonne had no interest in putting off the operation that long. Llyn was even more adamant about the timing.

The only other option was to use Llyn’s courier ship. But couriers were generally diplomatic vessels, and one in private hands would raise nearly as many eyebrows as one of Gensonne’s military ships.

Besides, if he couldn’t trust Llyn’s spies to give him accurate data, he sure as hell couldn’t trust Llyn himself with the job.

Gensonne scowled. The ongoing mystery underlying this whole thing was what in blazes the Manticorans could possibly have that was worth this much effort. Llyn was paying the Volsungs a huge sum of money to take over three lumps of real estate on the bloody back end of nowhere. Gensonne had tried on numerous occasions to wangle that secret out of the smug little man, and every time Llyn had calmly and artfully dodged the question.

But that was all right. The Volsung Mercenaries weren’t without resources of their own…and if Gensonne still didn’t know the why, he now at least knew the who.

Llyn’s employer, the shadowy figure quietly funding this whole operation, was one of the top people in the multi-trillion, transstellar business juggernaut known as the Axelrod Corporation.

So the question now became why Axelrod would be interested in Manticore. Was it the treecats? Something else hidden in the forests of Sphinx or the wastes of Gryphon?

“Admiral?” Imbar’s voice came from the com speaker.


“Captain Blakely’s compliments, Sir,” Imbar said. “He confirms hauling carcass as ordered, and anticipates fourteen hours to zero-zero.”

Gensonne checked his chrono. “Tell him that if he doesn’t make it in twelve he might as well not bother,” he warned.

“He anticipated that request,” Imbar said, his voice going a little brittle. “He said to tell you that fourteen should do just fine if you can get the loaders to haul carcass at even half the speed he’s doing it. If you can’t, he’ll just have to do it himself.” The Captain gave a little snort. “He added a Sir to that, but I don’t think he really meant it.”

Gensonne smiled. Blakely was as arrogant and snarky an SOB as they came. But he was also a hell of a scrappy fighter, and Gensonne was willing to put up with the one if he could have the other. “Tell him he’ll be losing one percent of his profit cut for every ten minutes after twelve hours he ties up.”

“Yes, Sir, that should do it,” Imbar said slyly. “I’ll let him know.”

“Do that,” Gensonne said, his attention already back on the upcoming campaign.

Standard military doctrine, of course, said that you went after the biggest ships first, taking them out as soon as you could clear away their screening vessels. But in this case, it might well be smart to seek out Casey earlier rather than later and make sure she was out of the fight. If she was the Manticorans’ modern showcase, her destruction might help convince them to sue for terms more promptly.

Which could be useful. The accepted laws of war dictated that a planet was supposed to surrender once someone else controlled the space around it, a convention designed to avoid the wholesale slaughter of civilians in prolonged combat. Taking out Casey would give the Volsungs that control all the faster, and once Gensonne had King Edward’s formal surrender document any forces that remained at large would be legally bound to stand down.

Gensonne liked quick surrenders. It saved on men and equipment, and it boosted profits. Especially since any Royal Manticoran ships that survived would become the property of the victors. That would definitely be a part of the surrender agreement, and even old ships could be profitably integrated into his existing forces. If eliminating Casey quickly helped bring that about, so much the better.

And if Casey wasn’t, in fact, anything special?

He shrugged. It was most probable the ship would have to be destroyed in the initial attack, anyway. It would have been nice to get his hands on the Manticorans’ one really modern vessel, but a man couldn’t have everything.

“Admiral, I have a response from Captain Blakely,” Imbar once again interrupted. “He sends his compliments, and says he’ll see you in hell.”

Gensonne smiled. “Tell him it’s a date,” he said. “I’ll be the one wearing white.”

* * *

“Commander Donnelly?” Chief Lydia Ulvestad called from the com station. “Signal from Ensign Plover. He and the others have left Aries and are heading back.”

“Thank you, Chief,” Lisa said, feeling yet another twinge of annoyance over this whole thing. Granted, she and the rest of Damocles’s crew had little enough to do these days. But there was still something fundamentally insulting about the RMN having to send ratings to one of their own former ships simply because the MPARS weenies couldn’t figure out how to make their new missiles work.

Especially when Breakwater had already siphoned off some of the Navy’s own people to assist them. They were the ones who were supposed to be doing this grunt work, not Damocles’s people.

“Did Plover say whether or not they got the missiles working?” she asked.

“Sounds like it, Ma’am,” Ulvestad said. “From what I heard, it sounded like an electronics problem, and Mallare and Redko are good at fixing those.” She hesitated. “I don’t know if you knew, Ma’am, but Missile Tech Townsend is aboard Aries.”

“Yes, I knew that,” Lisa said, feeling her throat tighten. Travis had mentioned that over a hurried lunch a couple of weeks ago, during one of the rare times the two of them were in Landing at the same time. He’d seemed to think that he might have had something to do with Townsend’s transfer, though he hadn’t gone into details.

But except for that brief cloud, the rest of the time they’d spent together had been good. Actually, it had been more than just good. The people who remembered Travis as “Rule-stickler Long,” and those who used the strange travesty catchword that he’d somehow been saddled with — they all missed the point. Yes, Travis was rigid when it came to rules and procedures aboard his ship; but when he was off-duty, and if he could be persuaded to relax, he was surprisingly pleasant company. He was smart, quick with a quip, considerate, and attentive.

In fact, what had begun as a dog-sitting favor and grown into a friendship was slowly blossoming into —

Lisa shook the thought away. She didn’t know where her relationship with Travis was going, and wasn’t at all sure she wanted to. She’d tried the romance thing once before, and had gotten herself thoroughly paint-stripped for her efforts. She wasn’t in any hurry to rush into that thorn bush again.

Though with Travis it would probably be different. There’d been warning signs with Rolfe, red flags which she’d ignored in the rose-colored haze, but which were painfully obvious in the cold light of day. There were no such flags with Travis.

Of course, that might only mean that there were different signs there which she was also deliberately avoiding. No one was perfect, after all, and Travis probably had a dozen habits or quirks that would make him hard to live with.

Still, she did enjoy his company.

“Signal from Aries, Ma’am,” Ulvestad said into her thoughts. “Captain Hardasty’s compliments, and her thanks for lending us Mallare and Redko.”

At least Hardasty was being polite about it. “My compliments in return,” Lisa said. “Did she give any indication that the problem has been fixed?”

“Nothing directly,” Ulvestad said. “But Plover did mention he’d heard both Aries and Taurus would be staying in Manticore orbit for a while to run some tests.”

Lisa nodded. A sensible decision — it would be foolish for the two corvettes to head directly to their new Unicorn Belt postings until they were sure their missile systems were up and running. Manticore-B might be MPARS’s stronghold, but most of the real weapons expertise still resided here at Manticore.

Unless Hardasty wanted to head in from the Belt later to Gryphon and ask Admiral Jacobson for help. Given that Aries had been pulled out of Jacobson’s Red Force before being handed over to MPARS, Lisa doubted that such help would be cheerfully given.

“Well, do remind her that we’re scheduled to leave in three hours to rendezvous with the rest of Aegis,” she said. “If she needs assistance after that, she’ll have to get it elsewhere.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Lisa checked her chrono. Captain Marcello would be arriving for his watch in about half an hour. Lisa would want to make sure the shuttle was properly squared away and that Damocles was ready for her departure to join the rest of Admiral Locatelli’s force.

And then it would be a trip to the officers’ mess for a quick dinner. Alone, probably. Certainly not with anyone who understood her and could make her laugh.

It really was amazing, she decided, how much she missed Travis.

* * *

“Well?” Gensonne asked drumming his fingers impatiently.

“We’re ready, Sir,” Imbar said. He listened a moment longer, then keyed off the com. “All ships are in position; all synch timers are zeroed. We await your order, Admiral.”

Gensonne nodded. Which was as it should be. All ships, all crewmen, all awaiting his order.

All ships, of course, except for Llyn’s courier. Gensonne had invited him to come along and watch the show, but he’d made his excuses and taken off, no doubt to report to his Axelrod masters. Perish forbid that someone from such a genteel, dress-suited establishment should soil his hands with something as disagreeable as actual combat.

But that was fine. Gensonne could have found something useful for Llyn and his ship to do, but he hardly needed them. All he needed was Llyn’s money, and he had the first portion of that safely in hand.

He would also make sure he had all the rest before he and his ships left Manticore. Maybe he would make a little ritual of handing over the keys to King Edward’s palace in exchange for the last set of bank chits. That would probably appeal to the little man’s sense of humor.

In the meantime, the Volsung Mercenaries had a job to do.

“Signal all ships,” he ordered Imbar. “Translate on my mark.”

And they would carry out that job with skill and precision, he promised himself. The skill and precision that Gustav Anderman had always prized, and which the old lunatic had claimed Gensonne didn’t have.

Well, the Volsungs would show him. They would show everyone.

And when this was all over, maybe Gensonne would take the new ships and crews he could buy with the money Llyn was paying and go back to Potsdam. And he would show his former chief just how skillful and precise an attack could be.

It was something worth thinking about.

In the meantime…

“Ready all ships,” he called. “Ready: mark.”