A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 01

A Call To Vengeance

Book III of Manticore Ascendant



1543 PD


The Spanish Inquisition hadn’t been the first political and religious witch-hunt in Old Earth’s violent history. Nor had it been the last, or even been the bloodiest. But for some reason, the memory of its long and persistent reign of terror had lingered in common human memory up to the Diaspora and throughout the long centuries since.

Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long, late of the cruiser HMS Casey, didn’t know why that was. Perhaps it was the faintly exotic name that continued to catch the human ear and imagination. Perhaps it was the cautionary proverb of a long-forgotten pre-Diaspora philosopher, who had warned that nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. But whatever the reason, he was familiar with the history of that particular malevolence, and had always wondered how the victims felt as they faced their stone-eyed accusers.

It was, he suspected, probably a lot like he was feeling right now.

“…I do so solemnly affirm,” the clerk prompted.

“I do so solemnly affirm,” Travis repeated.

The clerk gave a brisk nod and raised his voice. “Long life to the King.”

“Long life to the King,” Travis repeated. This time he was joined by the rest of the men and women seated across from him in the hearing room.

All of whom, he had no doubt, grimly recognized the irony of the sentiment.

Long life to the King…

At the center of the long, curved table, Prime Minister Davis Harper, Duke Burgundy, cleared his throat. “We are assembled today,” he intoned, “to examine the events of 33rd Twelfth, and the events and decisions leading up to the loss of His Majesty’s corvette Hercules — ” he paused, just noticeably ” — and the resulting death of Crown Prince Richard Winton. Do you understand, Lieutenant Long?”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Travis said. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Only in this case, it was not only expected but virtually guaranteed.

Never mind that four other ships of the Royal Manticoran Navy had been destroyed, with the loss of their entire crews. Never mind that half a dozen others had suffered damage, with some of their crew members also dead or injured. Certainly the Battle of Manticore had brought with it more than enough death and trauma to go around.

But those deaths were relatively anonymous except to the families and friends who had lost their loved ones. Richard’s name and face, in contrast, were known to everyone in the Star Kingdom of Manticore. He was the symbol of the Navy’s desperate defense, and as such had become the center of the swirling questions of How and Who and Why.

The Star Kingdom was solidly focused on Richard. That went double for the members of Parliament. It went triple for the Committee of Naval Affairs.

And Travis had no doubt that half the members of the latter group were determined to find Travis’s commander, Commodore Rudolph Heissman, personally responsible for the Crown Prince’s death.

Which was both ridiculous and a complete waste of time. The Navy’s Board of Inquiry had already cleared Heissman of any wrongdoing. The rest of the long, official hearings had ended a week ago. What was going on in here today was nothing but political posturing.

Travis hated political posturing.

Burgundy was running through the standard welcome routine, thanking Travis for his service to the Crown and emphasizing the importance of the testimony he was about to give. Listening with half an ear, Travis let his gaze drift over the line of men and women arrayed against him, his eyes and brain automatically running threat assessments.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Anderson L’Estrange, Earl Breakwater, was clearly out for blood. Not specifically because it was Commodore Heissman on the hot seat — Travis doubted the Chancellor even knew Heissman — but because anything that besmirched the Navy’s reputation could only put his own Manticoran Patrol and Rescue Service in a better light. MPARS’ contribution to the battle had been minimal, mainly because only two of its ships had been in position to help. Still, those two ships had acquitted themselves well.

But Breakwater was never satisfied with the simple gathering of laurels. He much preferred gathering his laurels with one hand and wilting those of his political opponents with the other.

The embodiment of that opposition, Minister of Defense James Mantegna, Earl Dapplelake, would of course be pulling the opposite direction, for similar but reverse reasons. The Navy had suffered huge losses in the battle, and Dapplelake had no intention of letting any more of the Star Kingdom’s limited shipyard and manpower resources be siphoned off to MPARS than was absolutely necessary.

The two men’s political, economic, and philosophic rivalry had been going on for a long time — the entire fourteen T-years that Travis had been in the Navy, at least, and probably longer. Most of the Committee members had also been in various positions of power for much of that time, and they’d long since sorted out which team they preferred to kick for. Secretary of Bioscience Lisa Tufele, Baroness Coldwater, and Shipyard Supervisor John Garner, Baron Low Delhi, typically lined up behind Dapplelake: Low Delhi because his family and Dapplelake’s were friends, Coldwater because boosts to Navy funding often meant more money for her budget, as well. First Lord of Law Deborah Scannabecchi, Duchess New Bern, and Director of Belt Mining Carolynne Jhomper tended to vote with Breakwater: New Bern because she was a big believer in legal balance and thought the Navy threw its weight around too much, Jhomper because the more patrol ships MPARS put into her area of responsibility, the better. Secretary of Industry Julian Mulholland, Baron Harwich, and Foreign Secretary Susan Tarleton didn’t favor either side: Harwich because all ship-building projects made him happy, Tarleton because Foreign Secretary was largely an honorary position and no one ever paid much attention to her anyway.

As for Prime Minister Burgundy himself, who had assumed chair of the Committee, he would be trying hard to stay neutral. But as a close ally and personal friend of King Edward, Travis had no doubt that his judgment would be at least somewhat skewed.

Which direction that bias might run, though, was a question all its own. In public, the King had studiously avoided saying anything beyond the simple acknowledgment of his son’s death, with no judgment or recriminations. What he said in private was something Travis doubted more than a handful of people knew.

“Let’s start with the basics, Lieutenant,” Burgundy said. “Where were you when it first became apparent that the distress call you were responding to was, in fact, an invasion?”

“That recognition was more an ongoing process than the result of a single bit of data or insight, Your Grace,” Travis said. “But to answer your question: I was on Casey’s bridge during the entire time in question.”

“I see,” Burgundy said, and Travis thought he could see a flicker of approval in the Prime Minister’s eyes. It was all too easy to second-guess decisions and actions after the fact, but matters were seldom obvious to those in the middle of a given situation. Travis’s reshaping of the question should help to underscore that reality for the rest of the Committee. “When it did become evident — or at least likely — that an invasion was underway, what was Commodore Heissman’s response?”

“We’re particularly interested in his deployment of his four Janus Force ships,” Breakwater put in. “Why was Gorgon put into aft-relay position instead of the Crown Prince’s ship, Hercules?”

For a moment Travis was sorely tempted to play out a little rope in the hope that Breakwater would manage to hang himself somewhere down the line. But he resisted the urge. Breakwater was a master manipulator and politician, and if Travis tried to play any games the Chancellor would have him for breakfast. The truth, as straightforward and open as possible, was his best bet. “Hercules was a corvette, My Lord,” he said. “Gorgon was a destroyer. As such, Gorgon had aft weaponry — specifically, autocannon — which Hercules didn’t. Since Gorgon was already farthest from the enemy when it was time to flip and decelerate, and was therefore most likely to survive the opening salvo, Commodore Heissman elected to leave her there as our best chance of getting full sensor data back to Aegis Force.”

“Really,” Breakwater said with clearly feigned surprise. “I’d have thought that Casey herself, with aft autocannon and an aft laser, would be the best suited for such survival. So why didn’t Commodore Heissman put his own ship in that position?” He glanced both ways down the table, as if inviting agreement. “After, perhaps, bringing the Crown Prince aboard?”

Dapplelake stirred. “That kind of personnel transfer requires the entire force to cease deceleration while a shuttle makes the run. They had little enough time to prepare as it was. The loss of that hour would have — ”

“Would have what?” Breakwater interrupted. “Commodore Heissman lost three quarters of his force as it is. Three hundred and fifty good men and women. Including the Crown Prince.”

Travis squared his shoulders. Enough was enough. “If I may, My Lord?” he spoke up as Dapplelake opened his mouth to launch another verbal salvo.

Breakwater turned to him, and for a second Travis thought the Chancellor was going to lay into him for daring to interrupt a private conversation. Then he seemed to remember where he was, and the reason they were all there, and the surprised outrage smoothed away from his face. “Of course, Lieutenant,” he said. “You were about to say…?”

“I was about to expand on the reasoning behind Commodore Heissman’s decision, My Lord,” Travis said. “First of all, as Earl Dapplelake has said, it would have cost us an hour to transport Prince Richard to Casey, with our wedge down much of that time. Our mission at that point was to stay between the invaders and Manticore as long as possible. As it was, we unavoidably sped through missile range very quickly. Shortening that time would have meant even less time for us to inflict damage on the enemy.”

“Exactly,” Dapplelake muttered, and out of the corner of his eye Travis thought he could again see a glint of approval from the Prime Minister.

“More important, though, were the tactical realities of the situation,” Travis continued. “Casey had counter-missiles in addition to her autocannon. Gorgon, Hercules, and Gemini each had only autocannon. Putting Casey at the rear of the formation would have meant our countermissiles couldn’t help in the defense of the other ships.”

He held his breath, fully expecting Breakwater or one of the others to call bogus. In theory, he was correct: Casey’s countermissile spread could indeed help protect the other ships. But as a practical matter, that kind of screening formation was seldom used unless a battlecruiser or other high-value ship was in play. With Casey the biggest and most powerful ship of her small task force, her countermissiles were mostly useful for her own defense.