A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 05


“We’ve managed to refine the original data now that they’re moving in-system,” First Lord of the Admiralty Admiral (ret) Thomas P. Cazenestro said as king Edward settled himself into his chair in the underground War Room. “No identification yet, but they’ve been in n-space for about eleven and a half minutes. They’re definitely headed for Manticore and there are definitely nine of them, but they’re only up to about five hundred and forty KPS and they’re still over a hundred and ninety million klicks out. Everything we’ve got is scrambling to get underway, but for the moment, Admiral Locatelli has approved Rear Admiral Eigen’s decision to hold Aegis Force in orbit until he’s reinforced with whatever can get underway.”

“Locatelli’s still on his inspection tour of Thorson, I assume?” Edward asked.

Cazenestro nodded. “And he’s not happy about being stuck there,” he said. “But there’s no way to get him out to join Eigen, and at least Excellent gives him good communications facilities.”

“Yes,” Edward said. And with everything spread to hell and gone around the system, that might be critical.

“Whoever these people are,” Cazenestro continued, “they’re holding their acceleration down to about eighty gravities, so we’ve got some time. Assuming they want a zero-zero intercept with the planet and maintain that accel, it’ll take them over four hours just to reach turnover.”

Edward nodded, feeling an unpleasant tingle as his hands gripped the chair’s armrests. He’d held those same armrests barely three weeks ago as he watched the Manticoran forces fight their desperate battle for the Star Kingdom’s survival.

As he’d watched his only son die.

He’d managed to mostly shove his feelings into the back corners of his mind since then. There’d been so much death and destruction that it almost seemed that everyone on Manticore had lost at least one friend or family member. They hadn’t, of course; the Navy was too small, too understrength, for that depth of personal loss to touch all of his subjects. But in a sense, all of Manticore’s dead belonged to all of her people, and Edward, as King, needed to keep his grief at the national level and not allow his private sorrow to take precedence.

His advisers had assured him that the people would understand if he took some time away for private mourning. But while Edward appreciated that, he also appreciated his duty.

A king’s life is not his own. Edward’s father Michael had reminded him of that four years ago, on the day he’d abdicated in Edward’s favor.

Michael could mourn his grandson. Edward’s daughter Sophie could mourn her brother, Queen Consort Cynthia could mourn her son, and Edward’s half-sister Elizabeth could likewise mourn her nephew. But Edward couldn’t mourn his son. Not as deeply as he wanted to. Not yet.

And now, maybe not ever.

* * *

“The irony is that Clegg wasn’t supposed to be in Vanguard in the first place,” Lisa said as Chomps blazed their air car through Landing traffic.

Well above the speed limit, of course, and with complete disregard for normal traffic flow regulations. Travis winced with each veering pass; but for once, of course, there was good reason for it.

“She wasn’t?” he asked, to take his mind off Chomps’s driving.

“No, she was actually in line to be Locatelli’s flag captain aboard Invincible,” Lisa said. Maybe she was trying to keep her mind off Chomps’s driving, too. “Only she didn’t get it.”

“Why not? What happened?”

“Secour happened,” Lisa said. “After Metzger’s performance there, Locatelli pulled strings to push her up the list and give her the gold star for Invincible.”

“I imagine Clegg was annoyed.”

“I believe the word is pissed, Sir,” Chomps called over his shoulder.

“Officers don’t get pissed, Townsend,” Lisa admonished him. “Women don’t sweat, either — we glow.”

“I stand corrected, Ma’am.”

“Actually, I don’t know that she was annoyed,” Lisa continued. “From what I’ve heard, she was more frustrated that she was supervising Vanguard’s refit during the battle and didn’t get to join the fight.”

“She may be about to get a chance,” Travis said grimly.

“My point exactly,” Lisa agreed. “Hence, the irony. Hold on.” She raised her uni-link. “Donnelly.” She listened a few seconds — “Acknowledged, Sir,” she said. “He’s right here — I’ll bring him on my shuttle…Yes, Sir.”

She keyed off.

“You’re in,” she said. “Your orders will be waiting at the shuttle.”

Travis nodded. I wanted this, he reminded himself. I didn’t want to just sit on the ground and watch. So instead of watching from the sidelines he was going to head back into battle.

But then, that was what he’d signed up for when he put on the uniform.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” Lisa warned. “With only one functional launch tube, we’ll be going into whatever’s about to happen with one hand tied behind our backs.” She reached over and squeezed his hand. “But whatever we’ve got, I’m sure you’ll come up with some clever way to use it.”

Travis swallowed.

“Yes, Ma’am. I’ll do my best.”

* * *

Llyn’s tactical repeater remained singularly barren of useful information and he frowned thoughtfully.

There were a lot of civilian transponders in detection range — well, a lot for a star system this far out in the back of beyond, anyway. But not a single military ID.

Which wasn’t necessarily worrisome. Admiral Cutler Gensonne, who should be the current master of this system, couldn’t be certain who any newcomers might be. He knew the schedule, but schedules were prone to slippage over interstellar distances, and it probably made sense for him to be wary, at least until the newcomers’ identities could be confirmed. Llyn understood that.

In fact, if he was surprised by anything, it was the fact that Gensonne was taking sensible precautions. That wasn’t something he normally associated with the Volsungs’ commanding officer.

* * *

“Still no ID, Sir,” Commander Bertinelli’s voice rumbled over the speaker from CIC. “May I remind the Admiral that Bogey One has now been accelerating in-system for over fifteen minutes? That’s more than sufficient time to bring his transponders online.”

Seated at her station, Captain Clegg winced. As usual, Bertinelli’s tone was correct enough, but she was pretty sure Admiral Eigen could hear the impatience under the words.

That was a problem, and not one that seemed likely to go away any time soon. Eigen needed to be publicly oblivious to tensions within his flagship’s internal chain of command, Clegg knew, but he’d made it subtly clear to her that he wished she handled people a little better.

He probably had a point. Clegg had never had a high tolerance for fools, and seldom bothered to go out of her way to hide that fact.

Though after just three weeks commanding Aegis Force, it was likely that Eigen had independently come to the conclusion that Bertinelli did indeed fit that category. The man clearly believed Vanguard’s bridge was his rightful domain, and just as clearly resented having been banished to the Combat Information Center.

Clegg couldn’t decide whether that was because Bertinelli opposed change simply on general principles or because it deprived him of his opportunity to shine directly under his new squadron CO’s eye. Neither one spoke very well for him, though.

“Thank you, Commander,” Admiral Eigen said calmly. “I was aware of the time.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Clegg winced again. Set up, smack down, and Bertinelli probably hadn’t even noticed.

Still, she couldn’t help wondering if she might have short-circuited some of this if she’d explained her thinking to her senior officers when she overhauled the arrangement of their battle stations. The unexpected test of the recent attack had demonstrated that the RMN’s practice of concentrating all the senior officers on the bridge was potentially a disaster waiting to happen. The carnage of actual combat had demonstrated the need to separate a ship’s senior officers as widely as possible to ensure that someone survived to exercise command if the bridge was hit.

Eigen had expressed his own approval of her analysis and solution, and had assured her that the rest of the Navy would eventually come to the same conclusion. So far, it hadn’t. Even more unfortunately, neither had Bertinelli.

The man was overdue for a little career counseling. But now was neither the time nor the place for that.

“Force readiness, Captain?” Eigen asked.

“The Squadron is closed up at battle stations, Sir,” Clegg reported formally, turning to face him. “Impellers are at full readiness.”

“Good.” Eigen smiled bleakly. “I’m sure our visitors will be suitably surprised when we bring up our wedges and turn on our transponders.”

For a moment Clegg wondered if his last four words were an implied criticism of her decision to keep Aegis Force’s transponders locked down when they went to Readiness Two instead of bringing them up, as the Book mandated. She opened her mouth to explain —

“Surprise is always a wonderful thing to have,” the admiral added. “What’s the flagship’s status?”

So he did understand. Good. “As ready as we can be, Sir,” she said. “We only have eleven missiles, and Laser One has some intermittent faults that the techs are still chasing down. On the plus side, the energy torpedo launchers seem to be functioning perfectly.”

“Should we ever find ourselves close enough to use them.”

“Yes, Sir. There’s that,” Clegg conceded.

“Still, it does happen, doesn’t it?” Eigen continued, with another, less bleak smile.

“Yes, Sir. It does,” Clegg said, and smiled back.

During her slow rise up the ladder, she’d had more than one discussion with her fellow junior officers about the relative value of missiles, lasers, and energy torpedoes. Most of those fellows had endorsed the received wisdom of “best practice” navies like the Solarian League that the missile was the decisive weapon. Not even a capital ship, like Vanguard, was likely to survive a single direct missile hit, and even a close near miss could result in a mission-kill. Of course, missiles could at least theoretically be intercepted or evaded, but it still took only a single hit, which could be achieved well before the opponents entered energy range.