A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 07


“– about the size of it, Your Majesty,” Cazenestro said, looking up from the display recessed into the tabletop before him. “We’ve got better data on them, but I still wouldn’t call it good. And our ships…”

“Yes,” Edward murmured, gazing at the screen. He’d seen plenty of tactical displays when he was Captain His Royal Highness six years ago, but none of them had painted a bleaker picture. There were a lot of numbers involved: positions, accelerations, times until wedges could be raised, times to arrival at Manticore.

But the bottom line was that too many of the Navy’s ships were off at Sphinx and Gryphon, and none of them could get here ahead of the intruders. “Well, this is what we have to work with. Let’s focus on what this better data tells us.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Cazenestro said. “I’ll just mention in passing that Admiral Locatelli’s observations from Excellent track very closely with the ones we’re getting from Eigen and Aegis Force.”

“I assume Excellent’s launchers are also ready?” Edward asked, turning to the com screen where Admiral Locatelli sat in the Thorson command room.

“As ready as they can be,” Locatelli said, his image on the com screen tight-lipped. He’d been pushing for years to upgrade the missile launchers on Manticore’s single lunar base, Edward knew, but as always there was never enough money to go around.

Still, the missiles that were there offered at least a theoretical last-ditch defensive shield.

“We’ve IDed four warships with a high degree of confidence,” Cazenestro continued. “Vanguard’s CIC calls it at seventy-five percent; Commodore Osgood’s people on Excellent call it eighty-five. We still haven’t been able to get anything I’d call a good look at them, but we’ve picked up active radar emissions from at least two sources that look an awful lot like HighLink Sevens or Eights. Coupled with the formation they’re maintaining, it looks like at least four warships — probably nothing bigger than a cruiser, judging from the wedges — screening four or five ships pulling civilian-grade accelerations.”

Edward pursed his lips. The Solarian-made HighLink radar systems were ubiquitous among naval vessels, including the RMN’s own, but their cost and maintenance issues meant they were seldom found on merchant vessels. “Four or five transports, you think?”

“Hard to see what else they could be, Your Majesty,” Cazenestro said grimly. “I’m not sure why they’ve turned up three weeks after the attack, but it has all the hallmarks of an occupation force coming in to tidy up.”

“Maybe.” Edward planted his forearms on the tabletop. “But as you say, why wait three weeks? Why not come in with the attack force and wait outside the limit until the shooting had stopped? Or at least take up station a few light-hours out and wait for a courier to come get them?”

“We don’t have an explanation,” Locatelli said. “My best guess is that they simply screwed up their intended coordination. We don’t know where the attack originated, and we don’t know what their own logistic and timing constraints may have been. Maybe there was a delay loading the ground troops, or maybe one of the transports had an engineering issue and they were delayed repairing it.” He gestured somewhere off-screen. “But the fact that they’ve been in-system for over half an hour and still haven’t said a word suggests they aren’t exactly here to make friends. I think we have to operate under the worst-case assumption that this is exactly what it looks like.”

“Agreed,” Edward said. “The question is how we want to respond. I’m inclined to go with the argument that this is a chance to get some of the intel we desperately need. Drawing them deeper in-system may give us an opportunity to take some prisoners and, if we’re very lucky, perhaps even capture a computer system more or less intact.”

“But if we let them too far in-system, it makes a battle significantly more likely,” Cazenestro warned. “At their current profile they’ll reach turnover in three and a half hours. At that point, it’s fight or surrender.”

“Or blow straight through the system and hope we can’t hit them,” Locatelli added. “It seems to me they’re putting in way too much time and effort just to surrender or run. I agree that we need to learn more about them, Your Majesty, but at this point I think keeping them away from Manticore is the more important goal.”

“As do I,” Cazenestro said.

“Very well,” Edward said. As King, he could still override them, but much as he wanted to know who the hell this was who was threatening his people, keeping those same people safe had to be his first priority. “I just wish we had a better idea what we’re facing. If the biggest thing they have is a cruiser, then a battlecruiser with a cruiser and destroyer in support ought to be more than they’d care to tangle with. But if this is Tamerlane’s backup, it’s probably got a heavy tech advantage, and that could even things out considerably.”

“We’ll see what we can do about getting you that information, Your Majesty,” Locatelli promised.

Edward nodded silently. He just hoped they could get it while they could still use it.

* * *

“Excuse me, Mr. Llyn.”

Jeremiah Llyn looked up as the Pacemaker’s captain appeared on the intercom display. “Yes, Captain?”

“Signal from Hamilcar, Sir,” Katura said. “General Haus is asking — again — if he should go ahead and initiate contact.”

“Getting a little anxious, is he?” Llyn suggested.

“I’m sure he wouldn’t put it that way, Sir.

“No, I’m sure he wouldn’t,” Llyn said, frowning at the chrono. The Axelrod/Barcan force had been headed in-system for almost forty minutes, and still nothing from Gensonne.

Llyn could think of some reasons the Volsung commander would take his sweet time about checking in. Not good ones, perhaps, but Gensonne always enjoyed proving his own cleverness.

Still, Llyn had always held to the rule to never ascribe to malice that which could be explained by incompetence. Especially when the individual in question had such an abundant store of incompetence to draw upon.

General Haus had been something of a pain throughout the voyage to Manticore. Still, on this one he had a point. His four ships represented a significant chunk of the Royal Starforce of the Free Duchy of Barca, with an equally significant percentage of Barca’s troops aboard those transports. Under the circumstances, it wasn’t unreasonable for him to be nervous about the ongoing silence.

“Very well,” he said to Katura. “Put me through.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Katura’s image disappeared, replaced a moment later by the distinguished, square-jawed, silver-haired Haus.

“General,” Llyn greeted him courteously. “How can I help you?”

“I’ve been going over Admiral Gensonne’s timetable, Mr. Ichabod,” Haus said. As always, he leaned just a bit on the name, his not-so-subtle way of saying that he didn’t believe for a minute that was the operation organizer’s real name. “It seems to me that he should already have hailed us. Since he hasn’t, I suggest we go ahead and com the planet directly.”

“I think we should probably wait on that, Sir,” Llyn said “Admiral Gensonne’s firepower was more than sufficient to deal with the Manticoran Navy, but it’s possible that he took some damage, or that he’s still dealing with Manticoran fugitives dodging around the system. If he’s had to go farther in-system for some reason, he might not yet have detected our wedges.”

“In that case, shouldn’t he have left one of his lighter units orbiting the planet?”

“I’m sure you’d have done exactly that,” Llyn agreed. “So would I. But again, the Manticorans may have decided to be pesky.”

“Perhaps,” Haus said with an impatient wave of his hand. “The Admiral had best notice us sometime in the next two or three hours, though. Otherwise, you and I will be having another conversation.”

“I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, Sir,” Llyn soothed him. “Nothing at all.”

* * *

“Ready to proceed, My Lady,” Captain Ermolai Beckett said.

“Thank you, Ermolai,” Admiral White Haven replied, never taking her eyes from the icons in HMS Nike’s main display. So far, their information on Bogey One’s composition was one hell of a lot vaguer than she could have wished, but she was confident additional information was en route. Twenty-eight light-minutes was a long way for a message transmission to come.

And even longer for a pair of warships to cross.

“My Lady,” Beckett said quietly, “I really think –”

“I know what you think, Captain,” White Haven interrupted. “But micro jumps are too risky. You know how easy it is to be off by as much as four or five million kilometers even on a longer jump. On a micro jump, that margin of error goes up catastrophically.”

“I realize that, My Lady. But –”

“The last thing Locatelli and Eigen need is for us to wind up somewhere the hell and gone away from where they expect us. And the last thing we need is to find these people — whoever they are — far enough inside us that they can finish Eigen off in detail before we can join forces with him.”

Beckett was silent for a long moment. White Haven turned her eyes from the display and met his gaze coldly. For a moment they held that pose, and then Beckett looked away.

“With all due respect, My Lady, I intend to log my formal disagreement with your decision.”

“Do whatever you think right,” White Haven said, letting her tone frost over. “In the meantime, you will get the squadron underway.”

“Yes, My Lady,” Beckett replied. He looked at Nike’s helmsman and astrogator, both of whom had been studiously deaf during the conversation. “Proceed as directed,” he ordered.

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

A moment later Nike was on the move, accelerating away from Sphinx at 1.57 KPS² — twice Bogey One’s reported acceleration, but of course she had a lot farther to go. The plain, ugly fact was that there was no way in hell they could reach Manticore in time to make any difference at all to the upcoming battle.

We never should have been stationed here to begin with, the admiral thought bitterly. The fact that she’d said so at the time was of little consolation now that she and the rest of the Star Kingdom were looking the consequences of that disastrous decision squarely in the eye.

Her mind ran the relentless calculations yet again. Nike was ten hours from Manticore orbit; Bogey One would enter planetary orbit in only three hours and forty minutes.

She might be there in time to pick up any remaining pieces. But nothing more.

* * *

“I understand, Sir,” Eigen said, studying Locatelli’s expression on the com display. As always, there was no way to tell which side of the prisoners-and-intel versus keep-them-at-arm’s-length argument he’d come down on. Locatelli definitely knew how to play the political game.

“I’m sure you do, Kyle,” Admiral Locatelli replied. “And let me underscore that no one disagrees that we still need all the intel you can squeeze out of this.”

“We just have do it from farther away.”

“Exactly,” Locatelli said. “How soon can you break orbit?”

“Vanguard, Gryphon, and Bellerophon are ready to go now, Sir. Aries and Taurus are still loading missiles, though, and the rest of the Reserve is still over an hour from bringing its impellers online. I want those corvettes as close to fully rearmed as I can before we head out, and I want the Reserve close enough to be another factor in their thinking.”